Christian Group’s School Spat Is Finito, Judge Says

     MINNEAPOLIS (CN) – A Christian after-school program that settled with a Minnesota school district over facilities access no longer qualifies for an injunction, a federal judge ruled.
     The Child Evangelism Fellowship of Minnesota had run weekly “good news clubs” for children out of the Jenny Lind Elementary School since 2000.
     During the 2008-09 school year, however, a new site coordinator became concerned about the “prayer and proselytizing” that occurred at Good News Club meetings. The Minneapolis Special School District No. 1 removed the fellowship from its after-school program for the following school year, which meant that the group could still hold meetings at school facilities but could not use district transportation and food services.
     Removal from the after-school program coincided with a drastic drop in attendance for the club, from 47 students in the 2008-09 school year to just five students in the 2010-11 school year.
     A federal judge refused to grant the fellowship an injunction, finding it unlikely that there was a First Amendment issue since the group still had access to facilities.
     After the St. Louis, Mo.-based federal appeals court reversed in August 2012, the parties indicated that they wanted to settle.
     The stipulation required the district to pay the fellowship more than $100,000 in legal fees and offers full reinstatement of the club’s benefits as a member of the after-school program at Lind elementary. The stipulation also required the court to enter a permanent injunction and retain jurisdiction over the matter.
     Though the District of Minnesota entered the injunction on Jan. 25, 2013, and dismissed the case with prejudice, that order fell apart Tuesday.
     “Here, the court finds that the parties have not demonstrated that permanent injunctive relief is necessary or warranted,” U.S. District Judge John Tunheim wrote. “Instead, the stipulation reveals the parties’ agreement to settle the action. … The stipulation does not reveal that a permanent injunction is necessary to prevent future violations by the district. Instead, because the district has voluntarily agreed to cease the challenged conduct, the court finds that there is no threat of future irreparable harm to CEF and therefore an injunction should not issue.”
     Furthermore, there is no reason for the court to retain “perpetual jurisdiction” over the matter.
     “It appears from the stipulation that the parties have reached an agreement whereby the district has agreed not to deny CEF any of the rights accorded to the district’s other, non-religious after school programs,” Tunheim wrote. “The court sees no indication that the District will violate this agreement, but if the agreement is violated, nothing will prevent the parties from pursuing a remedy. Additionally, the court declines to exercise continuing jurisdiction consistent with the stipulation, because the stipulation requests the court to retain jurisdiction indefinitely over all disputes arising out of CEF’s access to the facilities and benefits provided by the District to its programs. Where the parties’ proposed retention of ancillary jurisdiction would subject the court to perpetual jurisdiction over a broad range of disputes, declining to exercise jurisdiction is appropriate.”
     The parties have 30 days to file an objection to Tunheim’s decision, at which time the case will be dismissed with prejudice.

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