Flyers inviting elementary school students to join Good News Clubs are no longer banned on Washington state campuses after a school district reversed its decision that prohibited a Christian evangelical group from handing them out to students.
Last year, after receiving a parental complaint, the Cascade School District stopped Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) and its Good News Clubs from distributing flyers to elementary school students. School officials caved in to the disgruntled parent, fearing an impending lawsuit alleging the establishment of religion – or some other argument claiming that the distribution was unconstitutional – would back up the claim.
The Constitution to the rescue
School officials’ fears, however, were laid to rest after Liberty Counsel explained that the distribution of Good News Club flyers was indeed allowed. This resulted in the district turning things around so that it allows CEF to promote the Christian club to elementary school students once again.
According to Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver, district officials were wise to let CEF continue handing out their invitation materials.
"The Cascade School District made the appropriate decision to eliminate the unconstitutional policy and recognize that the Good News Club has equal access to students," Staver announced in a press release. "Public schools cannot discriminate against Christian viewpoints and allow other organizations to promote their materials. We are elated with this victory for Child Evangelism Fellowship, for equal access and for our Constitution."
The Christian legal group based in Orlando, Florida, decided to get involved on CEF’s behalf shortly after the Cascade School District notified the children’s evangelical ministry that it was banned from distributing promotional flyers on their elementary school campuses. This resulted in Liberty Counsel’s Richard L Mast issuing school officials a letter of complaint last October, notifying them that their ban was unconstitutional and warranted legal action if it was not immediately lifted.
In an attempt to justify its ban, district officials cited Cascade School Board Policy 2340(F).
“Material and/or announcements promoting religion may not be distributed by non-students or on behalf of groups or individuals who are not students,” the code reads.
After reviewing the school board’s policy, Mast denounced it as unconstitutional by referring to precedent set by the United States Supreme Court in the lawsuit Good News Club v. Milford Central School District back in 2001.
“[Good News Clubs] must be granted the same access to public school sites as other youth groups engaged in moral and character development such as the Boy Scouts – notwithstanding any religious viewpoint," the decision in the lawsuit states.
Mast promptly advised the school district that it must put an end to its ban – unless it wanted to be held liable for violating CEF’s free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
"Both the prohibition and the section of Board Policy ("BP") 2340 supporting it violate the First Amendment and are unconstitutional," Mast informed the school officials. "The decision should be reversed, and Section F of this policy, and any others making unconstitutional distinctions regarding religion, should be discarded so as to avoid unnecessary liability for civil rights violations."
It is reported that the Cascade School District was pressed several years ago over a similar issue, when an atheist group threatened school officials to stop allowing Christian literature – or face impending legal action.
“This is not the first time that Cascade School District has come under fire regarding the issue of religious liberty,” The Christian Post reported. “In 2013, the Freedom from Religion Foundation [FFRF] sent school officials a letter of complaint regarding Bible handouts.”
FFRF maintained that the nationally known Bible distribution nonprofit organization – famous for equipping hotel rooms across America with Bibles – handed out copies of the New Testament to students on public high school property after being granted the Cascade School District’s permission.
"A concerned member of the school district reached out to FFRF after the Gideons handed out Bibles to the students at Cascade High School,” FFRF announced in July 2013. “FFRF was informed that the Gideon men tricked students into taking the Bible by passing them out upside-down. FFRF staff attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter to Cascade School District Superintendent Steve McKenna in a June 27 letter requesting the Gideons not be allowed on public school property to distribute religious material. McKenna responded to FFRF on July 10 that the Gideons will not be allowed on campus in the future."
In the latest situation, it appears that the school district quickly gave in to the elementary school student’s complaint as a result of prior intimidation, but this time, Liberty Counsel set the record straight before the ban lasted too long.