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A Christian legal group issued the Boone County School District (BCSD) an official warning last week that it is discriminating against an evangelical Bible organization by refusing it equal access to school facilities for a K–5 after-school Bible club.
Attorneys with Liberty Counsel sent school officials a demand letter arguing that the district’s facilities use policy is consistent with equal access laws, and therefore cannot be used to keep Child Evangelism Fellowship’s (CEF) after-school Good News Clubs from meeting on the campuses of Stevens Elementary School and Goodridge Elementary School.
Instead of letting Good News Clubs meet on campus, BCSD is attempting to keep other nonprofit groups from meeting on its elementary school campuses, as well, by covering up information showing that it previously had no problem letting similar organizations meet at school facilities.
“The district has altered evidence that proves it was illegally discriminating against the Good News Club while allowing other non-profit organizations like ‘Girls on the Run of Cincinnati’ (GOTR) to use facilities space,” Liberty Counsel announced in its press release. “Now, administrators appear poised to cancel all 2018 Boone County Schools GOTR clubs – a local nonprofit teaching character to girls through its running program – rather than simply extend equal treatment to the Good News Club.”
In fact, Liberty provided evidence of the district’s allegedly sneaky maneuver that was administered in order to remove incriminating evidence.
“This warning about intentional destruction of evidence is necessary because the facts as related to you by the District are blatantly false,” Liberty Counsel’s Richard L. Mast wrote in a demand letter to the school district’s attorney, Claire E. Parson, Esq., on February 8. “The attempt by Stephens Elementary and Goodridge Elementary administrators to cover their tracks by simply deleting or changing references to ‘Girls on the Run’ on [the] hyperlinks [provided] is unavailing, and frankly, laughable. Please see attached screenshots of the websites before your clients deleted or changed them, and after they deleted or changed them.”
Repetitive religious discrimination
The Christian fellowship experienced repeated denials by school personnel that forbid it from holding its clubs for students over the past several years.
“On January 18, 2018, Liberty Counsel requested that the district respond to Child Evangelism Fellowship’s repeated inquiries seeking use of a room for Good News Club meetings after school, at Stephens Elementary and at Goodridge Elementary,” Liberty Counsel attorneys pointed out in its news release earlier this week. “Administrators at both schools first rejected – and then ignored – the requests dating back to 2015. The discrimination against CEF continued in 2016 and 2017 – all while the district permitted GOTR to meet. Liberty Counsel provided hyperlinks to websites at both schools and additional evidence showing that GOTR is legally no different than the Good News Club.”
Details about the cover-up reveal how district officials went out of their way to manipulate information in order to make sure that the Christian fellowship was kept off their campuses.
“In response, school administrators deleted an entire webpage description of GOTR at Stephens and changed the name of ‘Girls on the Run’ to ‘Running Club’ at Goodridge – after which the district’s attorneys responded to Liberty Counsel, claiming that ‘neither running club at Stephens or Goodridge Elementary has any affiliation with the non-profit organization, Girls on the Run,’” the press release divulged. “A simple search of the district’s website reveals over 420 hits for the non-profit ‘Girls on the Run,’ many showing its official logo. GOTR even listed Stephens Elementary on its own website as an official club location, as well as numerous other district schools. The Goodridge GOTR permission slip is the non-profit’s standard permission slip and shows contact info for GOTR Cincinnati.”
The law’s on Good News Clubs’ side
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver argues that rights guaranteed to all Americans by the United States Constitution were violated by BCSN officials when they denied CEF equal access on their school campuses.
“CEF and its sponsored Good News Clubs are entitled to equal treatment by Boone County Schools,” Staver declared in the press release. “It is amazing that schools would destroy evidence and consider canceling Girls on the Run rather than comply with the First Amendment principle of equal treatment for the Good News Clubs. We will hold Boone County School District accountable for overt viewpoint discrimination if equal treatment is not provided.”
CEF took its case to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) in 2001 and won – when it sued another elementary school that denied it equal access, as administrators were prohibited from keeping the Good News Club from holding meetings after school hours on an elementary school campus in New York State.
"We conclude that Milford's restriction violates the Club's free speech rights and that no Establishment Clause concern justifies that violation," SCOTUS justices concluded in their ruling in the lawsuit Good News Club et al v. Milford Central School, according to The Christian Post. "When Milford denied the Good News Club access to the school's limited public forum on the ground that the club was religious in nature, it discriminated against the club because of its religious viewpoint in violation of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment."
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