Ruling: Christian After-School Club in Minneapolis Has 1st Amendment Right to Meet

A federal appeals court ruled that a Minneapolis school district engaged in viewpoint discrimination when it removed the Good News Club, sponsored by Child Evangelism Fellowship, from the after-school program. Minneapolis Special School District No. 1 must reinstate the club.

Overturning a lower court decision, in a 3-0 decision on Thursday the court of appeals stated, "When the government targets a particular viewpoint taken by speakers on a general subject, the First Amendment is violated," stated Liberty Counsel officials, who represented CEF in the case.

"We are extremely grateful for this decision and look forward to the opportunity of serving interested students at the Jenny Lind Elementary School," said Tom Levanos, executive director of operations for CEF.

Liberty Counsel says the federal appeals court ruling overturns the lower court's misinterpretation of the 2001 Supreme Court decision in Good News Club v. Milford Central School. The Supreme Court decision actually upheld the free speech rights of the Good News Club. According to the court, "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 foundations for their lessons."

Minneapolis Special School District No. 1 removed the GNC from its after-school program in 2009 based on the concerns of a newly-hired site coordinator who overheard a prayer and reference to Jesus Christ during a GNC meeting, stated Liberty Counsel.

The GNC had been meeting at the school, after school hours, using the same activities of prayer, Bible lessons and games, without objection since 2000. According to Liberty Counsel, the attendance at the popular GNC plummeted from 47 students to five by 2010 because of the school district's decision.

Through the years, the number of court cases involving discrimination against GNCs has steadily decreased as the Supreme Court ruling has become more well-known, said Liberty Counsel's Mat Staver, who represented CEF before the federal appeals court.

The legal team says that there still are challenges each week that are resolved without litigation. Few of these challenges bear the marks of overt hostility toward religion. According to Staver, most cases are the result of misinformation about the First Amendment and are usually resolved without litigation. When litigation has been necessary, Liberty Counsel states that its lawyers have won every case.

Earlier this year, a school district in Phoenix, Ariz., reversed its decision that did not allow students to pass out flyers from the Good News Club because of their "religious nature."

Students in the Dysart Unified School District are now allowed to pass out fliers promoting the after-school program as the result of a settlement between district officials and the Christian lawyers association, Alliance Defending Freedom.

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