ACLJ Files Suit Against Mass. School District for Denying Use of Facilities to Religious Groups

A school cannot reject an organization access to its facilities because its message is religious, according to a lawsuit filed on Monday by The American Center for Law and Justice on behalf of two churches in Massachusetts.

The Living Hope Church of the Nazarene and Beverly Church of the Nazarene are suing the City of Peabody and the Peabody Public Schools Committee for refusing to grant the use of its facilities to the two ministries.

The school district had permitted the two ministries to use the Brown School on Sundays from February to June this year. When the contract expired, the two ministries wanted to continue use of the school from September 2004 to June 2005, but the school district denied permission, contending that the use of a school in the district by the religious organizations was unconstitutional and would violate the separation of church and state.

According to Vincent P. McCarthy, Senior Counsel of the ACLJ, it is the school officials who are “acting in an unconstitutional and unlawful manner.”

“The law is very clear: if a school committee permits community organizations to utilize its facilities, it cannot reject an organization because its message is religious.

“The disturbing aspect of this case is that the school committee had permitted the organization to use facilities in the past – but administrative changes resulted in a change of policy – prohibiting the organizations from continuing to use facilities. The decision to do so was ill-informed and violates the constitutional rights of our clients.”

In its suit, the ACLJ argued that the actions of the school committee are discriminatory since the school committee still permits community organizations that serve “the community at large” and “the general welfare” of the community to use its facilities. The school committee has violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, according to ACLJ. The suit asks the court to declare the city’s actions unconstitutional and grant injunctive relief prohibiting the city from continuing to enforce its discriminatory actions, reported the ACLJ.