The Buena Park School District has been targeted in a lawsuit that says school officials acted improperly when they refused to let a religion-themed organization meet on district property for free last year.
The suit says the district wanted to charge the Child Evangelism Fellowship more than $4,300 to hold a series of after-school meetings at Beatty Elementary School, while other organizations, such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, can use district facilities for free.
Monday afternoon, District Superintendent Greg Magnuson would not comment on the allegations in the lawsuit, which was filed Monday morning in federal court in Los Angeles.
“Haven’t seen the lawsuit,” Magnuson said.
The group holds meetings without an issue in other school districts throughout California, said David French, an attorney with the American Center for Law and Justice. The ACLJ lists its mission as giving legal advice and fighting in court as part of a “desire to protect our religious and constitutional freedoms.”
The Child Evangelism Fellowship of Southern California describes itself on its website as “a Bible-centered, worldwide organization composed of born-again believers whose purpose is to evangelize boys and girls with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, disciple them in the word of God and establish them in a Bible-believing church for Christian living.”
The lawsuit says the group’s after-school programs include lessons from the Bible, songs and memorization of Bible verses, but “CEF does not categorize or describe its Good News Club activities as religious worship services.”
French said under California code, a district is required to charge entities to use school facilities when they hold religious services. However, he added, the district does not have the authority to decide whether the group’s gatherings are religious.
“Not every single meeting of a religious club is a religious service,” French said. “It’s not the state’s business to start diving into how many prayers there are, how many songs there are.”
The lawsuit does not ask for damages from the district, French said, only that the group be allowed to hold after-school meetings for free.
In 2008, the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District changed policies to allow clubs of all sorts to form. Earlier that year, officials would not allow the formation of a Bible club on campus, an issue that also found its way to federal court.
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