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Impact of 2001 U. S. Supreme Court Ruling on Public Schools

Contact: Melody Bentley, 571-274-6058

WARRENTON, Mo., June 18, 2014 /Christian Newswire/ -- It has been thirteen years since the Supreme Court ruling permitting Good News Clubs to meet after hours in public schools. What circumstances led to this case and has the ruling proven beneficial to our public school children?

In 1996, Pastor Stephen Fournier and his wife, Darleen, were running a Good News Club in the town of Milford, New York. The club was a small Bible club but sponsored by the largest Christian ministry to children in the world, Child Evangelism Fellowship. In an effort to assist some of the club's members the Fourniers requested that these children be allowed to ride the school bus to the club's meeting location, just as the boy scouts were allowed to do for their own meetings. The Milford Community School Board denied this request as well as the Fourniers' subsequent request to move the meeting location to the elementary school itself after hours, on the grounds that the Bible meetings amounted to religious worship which was prohibited by the school use policy. Thus began the Fourniers legal odyssey which ended at the Supreme Court in 2001with a ruling in their favor.

In Good News Club et al. v. Milford Central School, the Court ruled that the Milford School had engaged in viewpoint discrimination, thereby violating the free speech rights of the Good News Club. According to the majority opinion, written by Clarence Thomas, "there is no logical difference in kind between the invocation of Christianity by the Club and the invocation of teamwork, loyalty, or patriotism by other associations to provide the foundation for their lessons."

The Court also stated that the club's meeting in the school would not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits any law "respecting the establishment of religion." According to the Court's decision, the school district was not endorsing, nor could it realistically be perceived to endorse religion, because the club was to meet after school hours, was not sponsored by the school, and was not open to the public. It is significant that the Court concluded that permitting the Club "to speak on school ground would ensure, not threaten, neutrality toward religion."

The three dissenting justices, Justices Stevens, Souter and Ginsberg, argued that the Milford Community School Board was justified in denying the club's access to the school facility because the club was fundamentally an evangelical worship service encouraging its members to convert to Christianity. They argued that such meetings could encourage divisiveness within a school's student population and undermine its educational mission.

Were these justices right? Have Good News Clubs compromised the educational mission of the public schools and caused widespread discord among students? What have the past thirteen years shown us?

The fact that the number of Good News Clubs has grown from 536 on June 11, 2001, the day the ruling was handed down, to 4225 clubs last year is some indication that the answer is no. Even more convincing evidence is the growth in club members, from 16,805 to174,000 in the same time frame, and the testimony of public school principals who were surveyed last year.

Of the 224 public elementary school principals from 28 states surveyed by Child Evangelism Fellowship, 87.4% had personal knowledge that after-school Good News Clubs, have been "a positive experience for their school." One principal commented, "Some of the students reference the lessons learned and will at least think twice before acting. It has also helped some of our students that do not make friends very easily find a common ground." Another mentioned, "Students love the program. Parents are excited to have the program in our school. The Good News Club works with us to promote good choices among children." Only one principal responded negatively, citing some disorderliness in the school hallways after club meetings.

52.2% of the principals reported having seen or heard of noticeably improved behavior on the part of students who participate in the Good News Clubs. Here are testimonies from three different principles:

    "…the students who are in the Good News Club rarely receive discipline referrals to the office. Undoubtedly, the club has been a successful part in our curbing bullying and classroom disrespect from the children."

    "Students seem kinder with each other. Rules are followed and empathy and understanding are exhibited."

    "We have noticed an improvement in student behavior. Good News Club has provided us with an extra resource for our high risk population."

The growing number of club members and the testimonies of principals from all parts of the United States seem to indicate that the Supreme Court decision in the Good News Club case was beneficial, after all. "Our experience with schools across the country testifies to the wisdom of the 2001 decision," stated Mr. Moises Esteves, vice president for USA Ministries for Child Evangelism Fellowship. "Today 174,000 students in the U.S. benefit from attending Good News Clubs. Frequently, we receive testimonies and letters of thanks from students, parents and principals referring to the positive impact of their club and word gets around. Requests come in on a routine basis from communities who want a Good News Club to meet in their local public school building after the last bell rings."

For information about Good News Clubs go to cefonline.com.