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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
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Christian Fundamentalists Sue Schools

LOS ANGELES (CN) - An evangelical group sued the Buena Park School District, claiming it unconstitutionally demands rent to use an elementary school classroom for after-school Bible study.

Child Evangelism Fellowship of West Orange County sued the Buena Park School District in Federal Court.

It claims the school district refused to host its Good News Club, though it allows nonreligious groups to use schools for free.

The plaintiff is a chapter of the international group of the same name, which sponsors the Good News program nationwide.

"Buena Park School District ('BPSD' or the 'district'), pursuant to the California Education Code, has, by policy, opened its school facilities for use by members of the community for a wide variety of purposes, including a number of speech-related purposes," the complaint states. "Pursuant to these policies, plaintiff Child Evangelism Fellowship of West Orange County ('CEF') requested use of district facilities, after school hours, for the purpose of holding Good News Club meetings, which provide educational and recreational activities for students from a biblical perspective. Although the district's policies permit nonprofit groups organized to promote youth activities to use district facilities free of charge, the district informed plaintiff it would have to pay for the use of district facilities."

The school district told the nonprofit it would cost $4,355 to use the Gordon H. Beatty Elementary School in Buena Park for the Good News Club for 6 months, according to the complaint.

The school district claims it can charge for youth worship services under California's education code, but Child Evangelism Fellowship says its after-school program is not worship, but only "moral teaching and activities from a biblical perspective."

"Defendants knew, or should have known, that their refusal to permit CEF to use district facilities for religious youth activities on the same basis that other nonprofit groups are permitted to use district facilities for non-religious youth activities would violate the federal constitutional rights of CEF," the complaint states.

The group seeks declaratory judgment that the California Education Code is unconstitutional, and an injunction to stop the district from treating the group differently from other nonprofits.

Superintendent Greg Magnuson and assistant superintendent Kelvin Tsunezumi are also named as defendants.

The Good News Club has been criticized for attempting to undermine the separation of church and state, and encouraging young children to convert classmates and recruit them for the club.

Earlier this year, Katherine Stewart, journalist and author of "The Good News Club: The Christian Right's Stealth Assault on America's Children," claimed in an article in The Guardian newspaper that the program used the biblical story of Saul and the Amalekites to justify genocide.

The plaintiff is represented by Jack Schuler with Schuler, Brown & Ekizian of Van Nuys, and The American Center for Law & Justice, a legal advocacy group founded by evangelical minister Pat Robertson.

The Buena Park School District did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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