It’s being hailed as good news in the unfolding battle for religious freedom: A Christian ministry has won its three-year legal struggle against an Ohio school district accused of discriminating against the faith-based group.
The Child Evangelism Fellowship of Ohio won the legal battle against the Cleveland Metropolitan School District as a federal district court approved a Consent Order finding that the school district violated CEF’s constitutional rights to equal access.
The court is requiring Cleveland Metro Schools to change its facility-use policies, and ordering it to pay $150,000 in damages and attorney’s fees.
The Child Evangelism Fellowship, or CEF, filed suit in 2013 with the backing of Liberty Counsel, seeking equal access to CMSD’s public school facilities for CEF’s after-school, Christian character education Good News Clubs.
Liberty Counsel announced the court ruling as a “major victory for equal access” on its website.
The school district was providing free after-school access to non-religious community groups, such as the Boy Scouts, but refused to treat CEF equally. Instead, the school district imposed facility fees which CEF could not pay, resulting in the shutdown of the Good News Club.
As a result of this victory, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District is now required to change its policies to ensure that religious groups are not discriminated against in the future, and receive the same access and benefits to public facilities as similarly situated non-religious groups.
Child Evangelism Fellowship has been encouraging learning, spiritual growth and service to others for more than 70 years and is currently active in every state in the U.S., as well as over 183 countries. Good News Clubs worldwide are providing religious and moral education to children in 43,186 clubs.
“The district allowed secular use at no cost and at one time allowed CEF the same treatment but that changed when a new administrator stopped treating CEF equally.” said Matt Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel. “We sent letters to no avail and have been litigating this for several years to win the case.
“Equal access is a simple concept. It means equal treatment without dissimulation against Christian viewpoints. While equal access is simple the school district had to learn the hard way. Good News Clubs are the best thing for public schools. Every elementary school should have a Good News Club.”
In an April 2013 CEF survey, more than 87 percent of principals responded that after-school Good News Clubs have been a positive experience for their schools, and over 52 percent reported improved behavior from students who participate in them.
Roseann Canfora, chief spokeswoman for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, did not immediately return WND’s calls and emails Wednesday seeking comment.
Horatio Mihet, vice president of Legal Affairs and Chief Litigation at Liberty Counsel, said equal access mean equal access.
“Public schools cannot discriminate against Christian viewpoints. It is a shame that CMSD wasted three years in litigation to learn a basic civics and constitutional lesson,” she said. “We are elated with this victory for CEF, for equal access, and for our Constitution.”