Good News Club v. Milford Central School, 533 U.S. 98; 121 S. Ct. 2093; 150 L. Ed. 2d 151 (2001)

Good News Club v. Milford Central School, 533 U.S. 98; 121 S. Ct. 2093; 150 L. Ed. 2d 151 (2001)

Facts—Milford Central School barred the Good News Club, an evangelical Christian organization, from using its facilities after hours. A U.S. District Court and the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the policy.

Questions—(a) Does Milford’s exclusion of the Good News Club violate freedom of speech?

(b) If so, does the establishment clause still require this exclusion?

Decisions—(a) Yes; (b) No.

ReasonsJ. Thomas (5–3). The U.S. Circuit Courts had been split as to “whether speech can be excluded from a limited public forum on the basis of the religious nature of the speech.” The Court should follow its decisions in Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School District, 508 U.S. 384 (1993) and Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of University of Virginia, 515 U.S. 810 (1995), both of which were designed to prevent “viewpoint discrimination.” Milford has opened its facilities to a variety of activities, and “we can see no logical difference in kind between the invocation of Christianity by the Club and the invocation of teamwork, loyalty, or patriotism by other associations to provide a foundation for their lessons.” “The school has no valid Establishment Clause interest.” The meetings were held after school hours, were not school sponsored, and required parental consent. School children are unlikely to view the presence of the meetings in school as a form of endorsement. Opening the school is a sign of “neutrality”; parents decide whether their children can attend; this is not akin to cases where students feel compulsion within a classroom setting; the instructors are not teachers; and exclusion of the Club might be perceived as “hostility” to religion. “We decline to employ Establishment Clause jurisprudence using a modified heckler’s veto, in which a group’s religious activity can be proscribed on the basis of what the youngest members of the audience might misperceive.”

J. Scalia, concurring, observed that this case involved no physical coercion and that any peer pressure “arises from private activities, one of the attendant consequences of a freedom of association that is constitutionally protected.” The school had not required “the sterility of speech” from any groups other than the Good News Club.

J. Breyer, concurring in part, stressed the government’s need for “neutrality.” However, he would give greater scrutiny to whether a child would perceive the school’s actions as a form of endorsement and argued that denial of summary judgment to one party should be distinguished from granting summary judgment to the other side.

J. Stevens, dissenting, distinguished religious speech “that is simply speech about a particular topic from a religious point of view,” “religious speech that amounts to worship,” and religious speech “that is aimed principally at proselytizing or inculcating belief in a particular religious faith.” He believed the Good News Club could be excluded because its speech fell within the latter category.

J. Souter, dissenting, argued that the activities of the Good News Club went beyond providing religious perspectives and constituted evangelical worship. He was also uncomfortable with the Supreme Court decision to analyze the facts of the case rather than remanding the case for such examination at the trial court level. He distinguished this case from those in which students were older and more mature, and he feared that “[t]he timing and format of Good News’s gatherings . . . may well affirmatively suggest the imprimatur of officialdom in the minds of the young children.”

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