In Setback for Religious Liberty, High Court Ruling Permits After-School Evangelism

June 11, 2001 12:00 am

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NEW YORK–The American Civil Liberties Union today expressed regret over a Supreme Court decision permitting religious clubs to provide instruction to elementary school children on school grounds.

“In the minds of impressionable young students, today’s decision is likely to blur the line between public school and Sunday school,” said Steven R. Shapiro, Legal Director of the ACLU, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief along with its New York affiliate and other groups that support religious liberty.

In ruling 6-to-3 in favor of the religious clubs, Shapiro said, the Court stressed the free speech rights of religious speakers but did not take sufficient account of the Establishment Clause dangers presented by the facts of this case.

The young age of the students involved and the commencement of club activities just minutes after the conclusion of the school day, Shapiro explained, creates too great a risk that impressionable young students would believe that the religious message had been endorsed by school officials.

Today’s case began when an upstate New York school district denied a request in 1996 by the Good News Club, a self-described religious group, to use the school facilities.

“This case called for a careful balancing of interests; unfortunately, the Court focused all of its attention on one side of the scale,” Shapiro concluded.

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