Religious Discrimination Case: R.I. School District Blocked Good News Club but Not Other Clubs

Liberty Counsel asked a federal district court Wednesday to enter a final default judgment on behalf of a Christian club that wasn’t allowed at a public school that allowed other types of clubs.

The case is against the Providence Public School District and its superintendent, Dr. Javier Montanez. They’re accused of discriminating against Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) Rhode Island by not allowing its Good News Clubs on campuses while allowing secular clubs to meet. 

If the nonprofit law firm’s motion is granted, the court would end the case, and Liberty Counsel would obtain an injunction securing permanent protection to prevent future discrimination against the Good News Clubs. The firm will also pursue attorney’s fees and costs against the defendants. 

In March, Liberty Counsel filed a lawsuit against the school district, but its administrators did not answer the complaint by the court’s deadline. 

The school district previously allowed CEF Rhode Island to run a Good News Club at D’Abate Elementary School for the 2019–2020 school year before COVID caused the cancellation of all clubs in the Spring of 2020. 

When CEF Rhode Island requested to resume the Good News Club, as well as start a new club at Leviton Elementary for the 2021–2022 school year, district officials failed to respond to repeated facilities-use applications by CEF Rhode Island. 

In March 2021, Liberty Counsel received thousands of pages of public records from the school district revealing that when it denied the Good News Clubs’ requests by repeated failures to respond, the school district was routinely approving the requests of similar groups.

In November and December 2021, Liberty Counsel requested prompt approval of CEF’s requests to hold the after-school Good News Clubs. The school district did not approve any of CEF’s requests, despite Liberty Counsel’s letters explaining the applicable policies and laws.

In June 2022, the Good News Club even submitted a “community partner” application. Again, the school district never responded, while a comparable non-profit club, Girls on the Run, had its first spring meeting on February 27, 2023. 

“For nearly two years, Defendant Providence Public School District has blocked Plaintiff CEF Rhode Island from hosting its elementary school Good News Clubs in District facilities that are open to other organizations,” the 154-page lawsuit alleges. “The District’s policies of unequal access and hostility to CEF Rhode Island’s religious message violate the Constitution and have denied the District’s elementary school students access to free, positive, and character-building Good News Clubs that enrich countless student’s lives in other Rhode Island school districts and throughout the country.”

“Providence Public School District is clearly discriminating against the Good News Clubs and must provide equal access and equal treatment in terms of use of the facilities, including fee waivers, time of meetings, and announcements,” Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said in a statement.

In June 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision opened the doors for the clubs to enter public schools, ruling that government bodies like school boards that create limited public forums cannot restrict speech on the basis of viewpoint. In the case of Good News Club v. Milford Central School, the high court ruled that public schools violate the First Amendment by not providing equal access and equal treatment to Christian clubs when the school has opened the forum to secular clubs, as in this case. 

The Missouri-based CEF started in 1937 and operates clubs in the U.S. and around the world. It reached more than 15 million children worldwide in 2021 with more than 55,000 club meetings. In the U.S., thousands of clubs meet and share the Gospel with children.

Good News Clubs typically meet once per week, immediately after school, and are led by trained and vetted local community volunteers. The clubs provide religious and other teaching and activities to encourage learning, spiritual growth, and service to others, as well as social, emotional, character, and leadership development, according to their attorneys. 

Liberty Counsel has represented approximately 200 CEF cases nationally and has never lost a case involving Good News Clubs. 

CBN News has reached out to the Providence Public School District for comment. We will add it here if we hear back. 

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