Christian Group Reaches Deal to Use San Diego School Facilities Without Charge

A Christian group will be allowed to use school facilities in San Diego without charge after a settlement was reached in a federal court with the city’s school district.

Christian Evangelism Fellowship had sued the San Diego school district because officials had been charging fees to CEF’s Good News Clubs for elementary school children while similar secular youth groups were not being required to pay.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of CEF by Liberty Counsel, a Christian legal group, had sought free and equal access for Good News Clubs to school facilities. Under its policies, the school district said the groups had to pay a “fair rental value” because it claimed CEF was a “church conducting religious services.”

From 1999 to 2005, CEF paid the fees, which kept on increasing until it was no longer feasible for the group to hold meetings, according to a Liberty Counsel statement.

San Diego City Schools had tried to avoid the lawsuit by changing its rules so that fees would be imposed on all groups that teach “moral character” such as Good News Club. Groups including the Boy and Girl Scouts protested, which resulted in the district changing its policy again. That triggered the suit, according to the Associated Press.

Mathew Staver, president and general counsel of Liberty Counsel, said that parents demand groups such as Good News Clubs and that religious speech is protected under the U.S. Constitution.

“Every public elementary school ought to welcome Good News Clubs,” Staver said. “Parents appreciate them; children love them; and the First Amendment protects them.

“The First Amendment requires that similar groups be provided with equal treatment,” he added. “Religious speech is not a disability. It is our preeminent freedom."

This is not the first time CEF has obtained free and equal access for its Good News Clubs. In 2003, represented again by Liberty Counsel, CEF won a case against the Los Angeles Unified School district.

Judge Irma Gonzales still needs to issue a ruling regarding the amount of attorney fees that the District must pay.