WASHINGTON – A Christian group will ask a federal appeals court this week to order Montgomery County schools to allow distribution of the group’s fliers to elementary school students.
The county has refused to let teachers hand out fliers for the Good News Club — which describe after-school activities such as memorizing Scripture and listening to Bible stories — saying it would violate constitutional separation between church and state.
But the Child Evangelism Fellowship of Maryland is expected to argue to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday that the county’s policy amounts to discrimination. The fellowship notes that other groups are allowed to stuff nonreligious materials into students’ backpacks, and claim that the only reason it has been rejected is because of the religious nature of its fliers.
The Good News Club simply wants equal treatment, said Nathan A. Adams IV, a Christian Legal Society attorney who will argue the case for Child Evangelism Fellowship.
“Two-thirds of it (the flier) is a permission slip, and it’s directed to parents,” Adams said. “It doesn’t encourage anything other than asking parents whether they want to send their kids to that program.”
But Montgomery County schools spokesman Brian Porter said the Good News Club fliers are not public service announcements about secular activities, like the materials from other groups.
“The fliers that were to be sent home were clearly recruitment messages for a religious service, a religious activity,” Porter said. “The prohibitions enforcing separations of church and state clearly were intended to control this type of access to children’s book bags in public schools.”
Eric C. Brousaides, an attorney who is representing the county schools, said it is not part of the schools’ mission to locate children for a group through proselytizing material.
The school system does allow the fellowship to use its facilities after school hours. The Good News Club meets at Clearspring Elementary in Damascus and Mill Creek Towne Elementary in Rockville.
The Child Evangelism Fellowship first sued the county over the fliers in January. In April, a U.S. District Court judge refused to force elementary school teachers to hand out the fliers, sparking the fellowship’s appeal in May to the 4th Circuit Court in Richmond, Va.
The U.S. Justice Department in June filed a brief in support of the fellowship’s position.
Courts and school districts across the country have split on the issue. But Adams cited a May decision by the 9th Circuit, ruling that the Scottsdale, Ariz., school district’s decision to ban fliers for a Christian summer camp while allowing other nonprofits to distribute their materials was unconstitutional.
-30- CNS 09-19-03