Constitutional Rights Upheld, Another Victory For Religious LibertySep 24, 2008
A federal court recently ruled in favor of Christian students in the Williamsburg-James City County School District after that district's superintendent unfairly charged them a fee for use of the district's facilities (read Richmond Times-Dispatch article here). The district school board ignored advice from Liberty Counsel, a Christian legal group, and now will have to cough up more than $20,000 in taxpayer money for legal fees to pay for its discrimination. The case was brought by the Child Evangelism Fellowship of Virginia after it was forced to pay fees for use of school facilities when other groups were allowed free access. Liberty Counsel warned the school district that it was discriminating, but the school district refused to listen. Liberty Counsel then brought suit and won in federal court.
Once again a school administration chose to act against religious liberty in the face of not only advice from a premier legal group, but also the United States Constitution and previous court rulings. It is unfortunate that the school administrator's decision will cost the taxpayers of that school district more $20,000 in case it was destined to lose in addition to refunding the fees Child Evangelism Fellowship was forced to pay.
As The Family Foundation fought to pass legislation this year to protect the religious liberty rights of students in the classroom we were confronted over and over with the argument that "there isn't a problem" and that "religious expression thrives in Virginia." We know this is not true. This case proves the point.
Unfortunately, some school administrators are outright hostile to religious expression, to the point of ignoring several cases that have well established "equal access" in case law, including cases that go back to the early 1980s, as well as the high profile Good News Club v. Milford Central School in 2001 (read case synopsis here). Exactly what are these school board attorneys advising if even non-legal experts are aware of this case law?
In Milford, the United States Supreme Court held that an outside religious club could meet at an elementary school after school hours because the school permitted other non-religious groups to meet at the same time and there was no perceived endorsement of the club's religious activity.
However, unfortunately, many school administrators simply are ignorant. Virginia schools work under religious liberty guidelines drafted by then-Attorney General Jim Gilmore in the mid-1990s as well as the new Religious Liberty law we worked to pass during the 2008 General Assembly. Additionally, we currently are working with Attorney General Bob McDonnell's office in hopes that it will update those decade-old guidelines.