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The Good News Club is back in court after being denied by another public school district — this time in Hawaii


The Supreme Court ruled directly on this issue more than 20 years ago, so school administrators are either woefully uninformed on their responsibilities or so hostile to Christian beliefs that they’re willing to openly defy the law.

Liberty Counsel has filed suit for Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) after numerous school districts in Hawaii refused to allow their Good News Club to meet despite allowing other clubs to use the school grounds.

As Liberty Counsel details, “Good News Clubs typically meet once per week, immediately after school, and are led by trained and vetted local community volunteers. The clubs provide religious and other teaching and activities to encourage learning, spiritual growth, and service to others, as well as social, emotional, character, and leadership development. Good News Clubs do not charge a fee and welcome children with written permission from parents.”

Liberty Counsel alleges that CEF has experienced a history of Hawaiian schools refusing to allow them to meet dating back to 2013. Good News Clubs were allowed to meet in some Hawaiian schools prior to the COVID lockdowns, a time in which the state shut down all after-school clubs. Post-COVID, other clubs were allowed to resume, but Good News Clubs were not.

CEF requested access to use school grounds for the Good News Club from six elementary schools after COVID, but each school denied the club for various reasons. Some claimed not to have sufficient space for the club, despite allowing other, non-religious clubs to meet. One school denied their request with no reason provided. Another school’s principal claimed her school administration didn’t like the idea of a Good News Club meeting at the school. One school openly said the Good News Club could not meet at the school “because it was religious.”

Liberty Counsel claims the refusals violate state statutes, administrative regulation, and Board of Education policy.

Hawaiian state statute requires Hawaiian public schools to grant the community access to the school for general recreational purposes and for public and community use so long as it does not interfere with the normal functioning of the school.

Hawaiian administrative rules require the same, but also includes a clause that states:

“This general rule shall be carried out within the policy of the department of education that no available public school building, facility, or grounds shall be denied for use by the public and community on the grounds of race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, or disability.”

Board policy also requires school grounds to be open to the community.

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver stated,

“The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that public schools cannot discriminate against Christian viewpoints regarding use of school facilities. Child Evangelism Fellowship gives children a biblically based education that includes moral and character development. Good News Clubs should be in every public elementary school and that includes in these Hawaii schools.”

Numerous court rulings indicate that these six Hawaiian schools are in violation of the Constitution, most notably the 2001 case of Good News Club v. Milford Central School District. Milford Central School District, located in New York, denied the Good News Club the right to meet due to its religious activity.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Good News Club, with Justice Clarence Thomas writing,

Milford’s restriction violates the Club’s free speech rights and that no Establishment Clause concern justifies that violation. When Milford denied the Good News Club access to the school’s limited public forum on the ground that the Club was religious in nature, it discriminated against the Club because of its religious viewpoint in violation of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.”

Other cases such as Carson v. Makin, Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, and Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue all state that the government may not discriminate against a religious organization by denying public benefit to it because of its religious purpose.

In Shurtleff v. City of Boston, the Supreme Court ruled that the Boston city government had discriminated against Camp Constitution, a Christian civic organization, by denying it the right to fly the Christian flag over City Hall while allowing other groups to fly flags. The Court wrote, “Boston concedes that it denied Shurtleff’s request solely because the Christian flag he asked to raise ‘promot[ed] a specific religion.’ …Under our precedents, and in view of our government-speech holding here, that refusal discriminated based on religious viewpoint and violated the Free Speech Clause.”

Despite CEF winning a Supreme Court case and these other decisions, the Good News Club has continued to face discrimination from schools. In March 2023 Liberty Counsel filed a complaint after the Providence Public School District located in Rhode Island continually ignored the Good News Club’s requests to meet in the schools. The district refused to respond to the suit and defaulted granting a win for the Good News Club.

In a similar case this past fall, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled against the San Jose Unified School District in California after it removed recognition of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and engaged in a smear campaign against the student members due to the beliefs of the club.

And just today, Liberty Counsel sent two demand letters to Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) in California after it refused to allow the Good News Clubs to resume operating in elementary schools in the aftermath of the COVID lockdowns, although other after-school clubs are back up and running. In one of the emails denying the request, a principal stated, “As a public school, we are not in support of Evangelism on our campus.”

In a ruling that couldn’t be any more direct, the Supreme Court held more than 20 years ago that Good News Clubs have as much right as any other group to meet on a public campus, and yet public schools continue to violate the rights of Christians. And it’s not just at the K-12 level. Many Christian clubs have also been denied and discriminated against at the collegiate level, but the courts have consistently slapped down those efforts as well.

It is painfully obvious that school administrators and board members are either woefully uninformed on their responsibilities or openly defying court precedent, hoping they aren’t challenged. Or it could be that they are now so hostile to Christian beliefs that they simply don’t care.

That was the point of a panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in a case where Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC), a student club, was kicked off campus by the University of Iowa because it required its leaders to be Christian. In response, the panel not only ruled for BLinC, but held university officials personally responsible for violating the constitutional rights of the students. Judge Jonathan A. Kobes wrote,

“The law is clear: state organizations may not target religious groups for differential treatment or withhold an otherwise available benefit solely because they are religious. That is what happened here. The individual defendants may pick their poison: they are either plainly incompetent or they knowingly violated the Constitution. Either way, they should not get qualified immunity.”

He’s right. Those public officials who violate the law and the civil liberties of those they are supposed to serve should be held personally responsible. It is egregious that, in most cases, when schools violate the law, it is the taxpayer who picks up the tab for all the legal costs and damages. More than that, instead of focusing on actually educating students, administrators, school lawyers, and other employees are wasting valuable on-the-clock time in depositions and legal strategy sessions.

Unless there are built-in sanctions in the form of termination or fines for public officials who purposefully ignore the law, they will be emboldened to follow their own beliefs instead of the Constitution. As such, Americans must continue to push back when their rights are being violated by the government. They will, of course, have a fight on their hands, but they can take heart in knowing that they are doing the right thing and helping future generations by stopping government officials from flouting judicial precedent and attempting to make such defiance seem normal and acceptable.

Fortunately, there are groups like Liberty Counsel, First Liberty Institute, and Alliance Defending Freedom willing to come alongside in that fight. Their work over the last several decades has been critical in defending clients like CEF, and numerous individuals, who have been denied their liberty by a government that, at best, doesn’t understand the inherent rights of Americans, at worst, is intentionally seeking to negate them.

As seen in this article, many K-12 schools now embrace the secular woke agenda and are hostile to Christian beliefs and parental rights. Fortunately, parents don’t have to settle for this. Liberty University Online Academy is a K-12 program designed to educate your children in the ways of the Lord while preparing them to stand firm in their faith when they graduate. Our flexible online curriculum ensures that your student is trained at your convenience and keeps YOU the ultimate educator of your children.

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