Supreme Court Says Religious Clubs Can Meet at Public Schools

ByABC News
June 11, 2001, 10:56 AM

W A S H I N G T O N, June 11 -- The Supreme Court ruled for a Christian youthgroup today in a church-state battle over whether religious groupsmust be allowed to meet in public schools after class hours.

In a 6-3 decision that lowered the figurative wall of separationbetween church and state, the justices said a New York publicschool district must let the Good News Club hold after-schoolmeetings for grade-school children to pray and study the Bible.

Justice Stephen Breyer, usually a moderate-to-liberal vote onthe court, joined the five most conservative members in partialsupport of the religious club's request. Justices John Paul Stevens,Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter dissented.

The majority found that excluding the club was unconstitutionaldiscrimination based on the club's views. Letting the meeting takeplace would not be an unconstitutional government endorsement ofreligion, the court ruled.

The Constitution's First Amendment protects free speech and thefree exercise of religion, but it also bars governmentestablishment of religion.

Christianity Over Other Religions?

The Milford School District in upstate New York had argued thatallowing the Good News Club to hold what school officials called"the equivalent of religious worship" at the school would amountto a school endorsement of Christianity over other religions.

The Good News Club said the school was discriminating against itbased on its views.

The youth group's members range from age 5 to 12, and itsmeetings include Bible stories, prayers and teaching children to"give God first place in your life." The club has met at a localchurch since the school denied its 1996 request to use the schoolbuilding after 3 p.m. on school days.

A Contentious Issue

The Supreme Court has long wrangled with the question ofreligion in the public schools. The justices banned organizedprayer during class hours in the early 1960s, and in the pastdecade banned clergy-led prayer at high school graduationceremonies and student-led prayer at high school football games.