ACLJ Files Religious Discrimination Suit Against Mass. School Dist. In Wake Of Supreme Court Ruling

Friday, August 22, 2003

(Boston, MA) -- The American Center for Law and Justice, an international public interest law firm, announced today it has filed a federal lawsuit charging religious discrimination against a school district in Massachusetts that has refused to permit a Christian organization to use its facilities after-hours – just days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that such discriminatory action is unconstitutional.

This is a very clear case where the school district is out of step with the law concerning equal access, said Stuart J. Roth, Senior Counsel of the ACLJ, which has filed suit. “The law is clear: if a public school district permits other community organizations to utilize its facilities after-hours, it cannot slam the door in the face of a religious organization because of the religious nature of its message. We are very confident that the court will uphold and defend the constitutional rights of our client in this matter.”

The ACLJ filed suit today in U.S. District Court in Boston on behalf of Gary Taylor, Pastor of South Coast Community Church in Marion, Massachusetts. The suit was filed against the Marion School Committee after it refused to permit Pastor Taylor to use the cafeteria and community room after-hours at the Sippican School.

The complaint contends that on June 4, 2001 Pastor Taylor applied to use the school facilities for two events – a church meeting on June 17th and a worship service on July 8th. The suit contends that the school district rejected both requests citing a facilities use policy that accommodates a wide variety of community organizations but draws the line in permitting religious organizations to use its facilities because in the words of the policy: discussions of subjects relating to religious doctrine must be barred.

The lawsuit states that the school district has permitted its facilities to be used for a variety of purposes, including a YMCA after school day care program, scouting group meetings, sporting events by the City Recreation Department, and uses by private care providers.

According to the suit, since the school district permits its facilities to be used for functions that it calls “distinctly educational, recreational, social, civic or philanthropic” but prohibits the use of facilities by religious organizations the suit contends the policy is both discriminatory and unconstitutional. The suit charges the policy violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution as well as Massachusetts law.

The suit names as defendants the Marion School Committee, its five members, and the school Superintendent. The suit requests that the court declare the policy invalid and unconstitutional and asks for a preliminary and permanent injunction to prevent the school district from continuing the discriminatory behavior.

“This lawsuit comes at a time when the U.S. Supreme Court has just issued a very clear and defining ruling concerning the rights of religious organizations to be granted equal access by public school districts,” said Roth. “It is both disturbing and troubling that this school district in Massachusetts would ignore a long-standing legal precedent that has just been reaffirmed by the highest court in the land.”

On June 11th, in the case of Good News Club v. Milford Central School, the U.S. Supreme Court re-affirmed an earlier decision that requires public school districts to provide religious organizations with the same equal treatment afforded to other community groups.