A Christian youth club has filed a lawsuit against a California school district for demanding that the group pay fees to hold after school meetings on campus because officials felt the meetings were equivalent to religious services.
The American Center for Law and Justice recently filed the lawsuit against California's Buena Park School District on behalf of the Good News Club, a Christian club for youth, arguing that the school district violated the Constitution's First and 14th Amendments when it required the club to pay fees to use after-hours classroom space at Beatty Elementary School.
School officials reportedly required the club, which is affiliated with the Child Evangelism Fellowship, to more than $4,000 annually because they believed the organization was providing a religious service.
According to the ACLJ website, the Good News Club "provides school kids with extracurricular educational programming and recreational activities that teach about life from a biblical perspective," but does not constitute a church service.
David French, a senior counsel at the ACLJ, told The Christian Post on Tuesday that the school district's decision is troublesome because it implies that the district, a government-funded network, has the power to determine what constitutes a religious service and what does not.
"The state of California is attempting to distinguish between kinds of religious speech. This violates the establishment clause because it requires the state to examine the religious content of any religious program," French told CP.
"It's intrusive and it entangles that state," he added, claiming that the school district is in violation of the principle of equal access and non-interference in private religious expression.
"We're defending the vital legal principle that religious speech is protected by, just as any other form of speech," French told CP, adding that "it's ridiculous that we're still fighting [this type of issue] in court, but we'll keep fighting if we have to."
District Superintendent Greg Magnuson told The Associated Press that he had not seen the lawsuit and therefore could not comment.
Although French argues that the purpose of the club is to educate youth from a biblical perspective, the official website for the Child Evangelism Fellowship says the purpose of the club is to evangelize.
"The purpose of Good News Club is to evangelize boys and girls with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and establish (disciple) them in the Word of God and in a local church for Christian living," reads the nonprofit organization's website.
French wrote on the official ACLJ website that the school district allows the Scouts association and other similar youth groups to meet on school premises free of charge, and that this lawsuit is ultimately about "legal equality."
"Religious speech is entitled to the same access as any other kind of speech, and religious students deserve the same treatment as all other students," he added.