A California school district has reversed its decision to charge a Christian organization thousands of dollars to use the district's facilities for children's club meetings, even while other clubs use the facilities for free.
The Turlock Unified School District (TUSD) will no longer charge Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) for facility use and has refunded the "improperly assessed fees," according to a press release from Liberty Counsel. The total amount of said fees was $5,295, with $1,200 in security deposits that were already paid.
Initially, a CEF coordinator met with the TUSD assistant superintendent, who reportedly said the school board can decide which groups must pay the fees.
CEF contacted Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit legal organization that seeks to protect religious liberty, which examined the district's policies and found no justification for TUSD treating the ministry differently than other groups. Liberty Counsel then sent a letter to the district seeking equal treatment for CEF, and the district responded by dropping the fees and refunding the organization's money.
"Imposing a financial barrier based on the religious viewpoint violates the right to free speech and hurts children," said Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, in a statement. "The Turlock Unified School District cannot treat Christian groups as a second-class by requiring them to pay prohibitive fees to use the same public facilities at the same time and for the same activities as nonreligious groups which are granted free access."
TUSD Superintendent Sonny H. Da Marto said the district could not comment on the situation due to "potential litigation," his administrative assistant told The Christian Post.
In 2003, in a case involving CEF's San Fernando Valley chapter, a federal court ruled that public schools cannot charge religious clubs fees that other clubs are not being charged.
CEF "is dedicated to seeing every child reached with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, discipled and established in a local church," according to the organization's website. The group's three primary ministries to children are the Good News Club, 5-Day Club and Truth Chasers Club. The Good News Club and 5-Day club take place in community settings, including schools, while the Truth Chasers Club is a "Bible correspondence course" designed for the discipleship of adults and children.
The organization, founded in 1937, is active in all 50 states and more than 183 countries worldwide.