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News - Developments
Freedom of Religion in Schools

 Freedom Works Foundation  
U.S. Supreme Court
Confirms Access Rights
Without Regard to Religious View Point
In Nation’s Public Schools

"Powhatan Should Be Happy It Settled"

JUNE 11, 2001

Freedom Works Foundation

Powhatan County was fortunate to have been given the opportunity to settle after it violated the Constitutional rights of the Powhatan Chapter of the student religious club, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, said Thomas H. Roberts, civil rights attorney and spokesman for Freedom Works Foundation, referring to the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 11, 2001.

Freedom Works Foundation, the nonprofit organization, which helped Beth Sloan successfully obtain the same access for FCA as other clubs at Powhatan County High School in the spring of 2000 issued a statement stating "We are pleased to see the High Court confirm the rights of students to free religious expression. We hope that the Powhatan School Board learned something of the importance of religious freedom and its place as a bedrock of our national liberties guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Establishment Clause means neutrality not hostility." Although the statements of Superintendent Midera following the settlement provided new grounds to seek protection from the Court, the Foundation opted to view her comments as uninformed venting and to take a wait and see posture. Under the settlement, the school was required to provide mandatory education to the school staff regarding the freedoms of students to religious expression and equal access. No further complaints regarding Powhatan County High School have been received by the Foundation.

In Good News Club v. Milford Central School, decided June 11, 2001, the United States Supreme Court reaffirmed that schools may not discriminate against speech based on viewpoint, including religious viewpoints. In that case, a religious club sought to use an New York public elementary school facility after school to provide religious instruction and fun activities for children. It is illegal to use religious viewpoint as a basis for denying a student club access to the schools facilities available to other groups. The Court stated "Speech discussing otherwise permissible subjects cannot be excluded from a limited public forum on the ground that the subject is discussed from religious viewpoint." The Establishment Clause of the Constitution does not give government a license to oppose religion. The Court stated "For the ‘guarantee of neutrality is respected, not offended, when the government, following neutral criteria and even handed policies, extends benefits to recipients whose ideologies and viewpoints, including religious ones, are broad and diverse." The Court found significant the fact that the club sought to use the school facilities after school hours and that children were not required to attend. The Court rejected the notion that the school could justify its exclusion of the club because small children might perceive endorsement. The Court stated "Even if we were to inquire into the minds of schoolchildren in this case, we cannot say the danger that children would misperceive the endorsement of religion is any greater than the danger that they would perceive a hostility toward the religious viewpoint if the Club were excluded from the public forum." It continued, "Any bystander could conceivably be aware of the school’s use policy and its exclusion of the Good News Club , and could suffer as much from viewpoint discrimination as elementary school children could suffer from perceived endorsement." The endorsement inquiry is not about the perceptions of particular individuals or saving isolated nonadherents from discomfort. It is for this reason that the reasonable observer in the endorsement inquiry must be deemed aware of the history and context of the community and forum in which the religious speech takes place.



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Thomas H. Roberts, Esq.
Thomas H. Roberts & Associates, P.C.
105 S. 1st Street
Richmond, Virginia 23219
(804) 783-2000
(804) 783-2105

Other Information: - Equal Access Act, Guidelines etc. - Affidavit's.htm - Letter from Beth Sloan