Rhode Island school district sued for religious discrimination against faith-based after-school club

by Chris Lange

Chris Lange, FISM News


Lawyers for a Rhode Island nonprofit Christian children’s ministry filed a motion this week asking a federal district court to enter a final default judgment in a suit accusing a school district of religious discrimination.

Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit Christian legal group, sued the Providence Public School District and its superintendent, Dr. Javier Montanez, on behalf of Rhode Island’s Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF). The complaint alleges that the District discriminated against CEF when it prevented the group from opening an after-school club on campus while allowing other student clubs to meet.

The default judgment request was made after the district failed to respond to the complaint by the court’s deadline. 

According to the suit, the D’Abate Elementary School granted CEF Rhode Island permission to open a Good News Club at the school for the 2019-2020 school year. In the spring of 2020, all campus clubs were temporarily canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

When schools reopened, CEF submitted applications to resume the Good News Club and to open an additional club at another school in the district. The complaint asserted that “district officials failed to respond” to the requests. CEF proceeded to file several subsequent facilities use applications that were also ignored, according to the filing. 

Liberty Counsel said Thursday in a press release that documents obtained through public records requests showed that, during this same time period, the district had been “routinely approving” applications from other groups.” 

“[F]or nearly two years, the district has blocked CEF Rhode Island from hosting its elementary school Good News Clubs on district school facilities. Yet other organizations such as Boys and Girls Clubs, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Girls on the Run are given free use of school facilities for after school programs,” the release stated.

“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, per the release. He added that Liberty Counsel will continue to make sure that these children are able to enjoy the benefits of these amazing clubs.” 

Liberty cited a June 2001 U.S. Supreme Court decision in another case brought by Good News Club, titled Good News Club v. Milford Central School, in which the Bench rejected a school’s argument that it lawfully barred a Good News club from campus in accordance with the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, also known as the Establishment-of-Religion Clause.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the majority opinion that, When a limited public forum is available for use by groups presenting any viewpoint…we would not find an Establishment Clause violation simply because only groups presenting a religious viewpoint have opted to take advantage of the forum at a particular time.” The High Court ruled that excluding a religious club from campus while allowing other clubs to operate is a violation of First Amendment protections.

Liberty Counsel said it is seeking an injunction to permanently protect Good News Clubs from “future discrimination.” It is also asking the court to award attorney’s fees “and costs” against the district.