A federal court in Indiana hands a victory to Good News Clubs in one public school district.
Good News Clubs are a Bible-based after-school program for elementary students. They're one of the ministries of Child Evangelism Fellowship, which requested a preliminary injunction against a policy of the Indiana Metropolitan School District of Pike Township.
The Indianapolis school district required CEF to pay facilities use fees for Good News Club meetings but waived the fees for "similarly situated, non-religious groups," according to Child Evangelism Fellowship.
CEF called the policy unconstitutional and sued the district after it learned that groups like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts did not have to pay fees to use facilities and after it requested not to have to pay a fee and was denied, according to TheIndianaLawyer.com.
Federal Judge William T. Lawrence sided with CEF and granted the injunction.
"In response to CEF's assertion that the District was violating the First Amendment by requiring CEF to pay a facilities fee that other groups were not required to pay, the District, through its attorney, replied that the groups that were not required to pay were 'invited to participate in (the District's) education programs,'" Lawrence wrote.
"These groups had not 'requested permission to use Pike Schools' facilities but instead (were) joining with Pike Schools to provide programming consistent with Pike Schools' educational mission,'" he continued. "CEF, on the other hand, was a community group that sought to 'use the facilities for their own purposes.'"
"The District concedes that there are no established criteria for determining when a group may become a 'partner'; in fact, the District is not able to provide a list of its own partners. ... This type of unbridled discretion and vague, unwritten 'partner' policy violates the First Amendment," Lawrence wrote.
"Therefore, whether the District has chosen not to waive CEF's fees based on CEF's viewpoint or for a constitutionally permissible reason, the fact remains that CEF is likely to succeed on the merits with regard to its claim that the District's policy is unconstitutional on its face," he continued.
Pike is not allowed to charge CEF rental fees until the district develops specific criteria outlining which groups are allowed to use facilities free of charge.
"We are pleased that the district policy has been blocked by the court," said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. "The school district cannot discriminate against the religious viewpoint of Good News Clubs."
"This has been the clear ruling from the Supreme Court since 2001," he continued. "This ruling comes just in time for the beginning of a new school year. Good News Clubs are good for children, parents, and especially good for schools."