Disguising animosity towards religion with “clever words” just won’t work when it comes to discriminating against schoolchildren, according to a constitutional lawyer who said despite dozens of cases with the same result – districts still attempt to be “creative” in their approaches.
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Liberty Counsel’s Harry Mihet said in an interview early Friday that kids who want to attend the Good News Clubs at schools in the Indiana Metropolitan District of Pike Township – a suburb of Indianapolis – should have the same access to school facilities as do non-religious groups.
“This is in fact an issue that has been settled by the Supreme Court of the United States and every appellate court that has had an opportunity to look at it in the last decade,” Mihet said. “We have handled dozens of cases that have looked like this. We have won 100 percent of these. The law of equal access has been so uniformly and clearly decided.”
In an effort to “unmask the charade the district was playing to unmask the discrimination,” Mihet said Liberty Counsel finally filed a lawsuit on behalf of Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) against the district after months of warning them what they were doing was unconstitutional.
“Clever labels and word games the districts are engaging in (are) still discrimination of the Good News Clubs, and unconstitutional,” Mihet said. “We are fully confident that we will prevail.”
Child Evangelism Fellowship for over two years had already sought unsuccessfully for its ministry’s Good News Clubs to use school facilities free of charge, as do other similar groups, such as the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts, both of which are mentioned in the original 61-page court complaint.
The district maintained the Boy Scouts are an “extension” of the district, for example, Mihet said, and the $5,000 annual fee they would otherwise pay is not actually “waived” but is irrespective of a “rental agreement” the Scouts sign with the school.
“They know they can’t come right out and say they are going to treat the Good News Clubs differently or discriminate,” Mihet said, “so they try to mask the discrimination with clever sounding words.”
Districts in Cleveland and in Minneapolis used similar tactics, he said.
In Cleveland, Mihet said the district claimed it was not actually waiving fees for the Scouts because it had an “in kind” arrangement – to the tune of over $100,000 annually — whereas the Scouts “provided services” to the district. Presumably, those were the same kind of community services other non-curricular organizations like the Good News Clubs provides.
In Minneapolis, a district offered Scouts a “community partnership” which included snacks and transportation, he said. “That’s a great idea and very generous benefit.”
Choosing to not identify with a “religious entity,” however, Mihet said, the court of appeals found the district did not apply equal its practice.
Mihet attributes the uptick in these cases to a difference in how people view religion.
“I think it’s very clear that it is borne out of religious animus, hostility towards the gospel,” he said. “They know they can’t just come out and say it, but their actions speak louder than their words. In this district like everywhere else, there is no other non-religious club that has to pay fees.”
Liberty Counsel, Mihet reminded, stands ready to assist individuals – to go to court free of charge if need be – to assist them in taking a stand for their rights.
Whether it’s getting flak for reading a Bible at lunch, praying during a break in classes, expressing a religious viewpoint in a school assignment, or writing in detail about a missions trip last summer for a related school project – Mihet said the Supreme Court has time and again “ruled that students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate,” and may appropriately express themselves.
“The temptation is always not to rock the boat and to go along and get along,” Mihet said. “Constitutional rights are a ‘use it or lose it’ proposition. It breaks my heart when I see students or parents give up fundamental rights given by their Creator.”
— Joni B. Hannigan is an award-winning writer, editor, teacher, PR specialist, and the author of thousands of news and feature articles. She is also an accomplished photojournalist. In 2015 Joni won the Frank Burkhalter Award in Religious Newswriting at the Wilmer C. Fields Awards Competition. She is a U.S. Navy veteran. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook