More blurring between religion and government in America
The video below discusses a particularly pernicious decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2001: Good News Club v. Milford Central School. Sean Faircloth, director of strategy and policy for the Richard Dawkins Foundation, interviews Katherine Stewart, author of The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children.
Stewart found out that her children were attending a school where after-school programs of “Bible Study” were far more than that: they were attempts to brainwash children with evangelical Christianity and induce them to convert their peers. The school prohibited the activity, which still continued for a year while the case wound its way through two lower courts, both affirming that religious speech of that nature did not belong in a public school.
But the U. S. Supreme Court (which, of course is stacked with right-wing faithheads), affirmed the right to have what is essentially a church service in a public school. This was done on the basis of the Constitution’s “free speech” clauses, holding that religious speech in public schools is a form of free speech.
It was a terrible decision, and further erodes the already-weakening wall between church and state in America, a wall erected by the Constitution’s First Amendment.
Here’s the summary of the case, and the Supreme Court’s decision, fromOyez, a website of the Chicago-Kent College of Law.
Facts of the Case
Under New York law, Milford Central School policy authorizes district residents to use its building after school for certain activities. Stephen and Darleen Fournier were district residents eligible to use the school’s facilities. They sought approval of their proposed use and sponsorship of the Good News Club, a private Christian organization for children. The Fourniers submitted a request to hold the Club’s weekly afterschool meetings at the school. Milford denied the request reasoning that the proposed use, including singing songs, hearing Bible lessons, memorizing scripture, and praying, was the equivalent of religious worship prohibited by the community use policy. The Club filed suit alleging that the denial violated its free speech rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Ultimately, the District Court granted Milford summary judgment. In affirming, the Court of Appeals held that because the subject matter of the Club’s was “quintessentially religious”, and the activities “fall outside the bounds of pure ‘moral and character development,’” Milford’s policy of excluding the Club’s meetings was constitutional subject discrimination, not unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.
Did Milford Central School violate the First Amendment free speech rights of the Good News Club when it excluded the Club from meeting after hours at the school? If a violation occurred, was it justified by Milford’s concern that permitting the Club’s activities would violate the Establishment Clause?
You can hear the oral arguments at the court here.
Decision: 6 votes for Good News Club, 3 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Amendment 1: Speech, Press, and Assembly
Yes and no. In a 6-3 opinion delivered by Justice Clarence Thomas, the Court held that “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,” wrote Justice Thomas.
Have a listen to how Stewart describes the kind of “free speech” that the Good News Club was disseminating:
It’s going to take a long, long time before the appointment of religious, conservative justices to our Supreme Court will cease having a their pernicious influence on the U.S. government.
I keep hearing the ringing last paragraph of Judge Overton’s decision in McLean v Arkansas Board of Education, in which creationists tried to worm their way into science classes. It applies here, too:
The application and content of First Amendment principles are not determined by public opinion polls or by a majority vote. Whether the proponents of Act 590 constitute the majority or the minority is quite irrelevant under a constitutional system of government. No group, no matter how large or small, may use the organs of government, of which the public schools are the most conspicuous and influential, to foist its religious beliefs on others.