Bender v. Williamsport Area School District

RESPONDENT: Williamsport Area School District
LOCATION: Dow Chemical

DOCKET NO.: 84-773
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 475 US 534 (1986)
ARGUED: Oct 15, 1985
DECIDED: Mar 25, 1986

Charles Fried - as amicus curiae in support of Petitioners
James M. Smart, Jr. - on behalf of the Petitioners
James Madison Smart, Jr. - on behalf of the petitioners-- rebuttal
John C. Youngman, Jr. - on behalf of the Respondents

Facts of the case


Media for Bender v. Williamsport Area School District

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 15, 1985 in Bender v. Williamsport Area School District

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments now in Bender against Williamsport School.

Mr. Smart, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

James Madison Smart, Jr.:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

The facts of this case are not extremely complicated, but they can be misunderstood.

This case does not involved teacher-led or government-prescribed religious activities.

Very simply, students from Williamsport Area High School, which we represent, wanted to meet during the extracurricular activity period.

The school was originally content to let them meet.

Then permission was withdrawn after the first meeting, but solely because the school's lawyer felt that allowing student meetings containing prayer and religious expression would violate the Establishment Clause.

Now, since the lawyer's belief was the only reason for the denial of meeting space in this case, the legal issue is very narrow and that is simply whether the Establishment Clause requires a high school to censor out the religious expression of private individuals after having first created an opportunity for students to engage in their own self-initiated activities and expression.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Mr. Smart, do you think there is a jurisdictional question at all in this case?

James Madison Smart, Jr.:

No, Your Honor.

By that, do you mean by that--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, Mr. Youngman and his--

James Madison Smart, Jr.:

--All right.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

--and his position in the case.

Did the Court of Appeals have jurisdiction, do you think?

James Madison Smart, Jr.:

In our opinion, they did, Your Honor, and the case is properly here.

It is a valid case or controversy.


Sandra Day O'Connor:

And, why do you think they have jurisdiction?

James Madison Smart, Jr.:

--Well, it was our judgment that Mr. Youngman probably stood in the same position as Mrs. Bashdi McCollum in the McCollum case in 1948 as a parent.

But, if the Court should decide that Mr. Youngman does not have standing, the correct disposition of this case would be to vacate the Third Circuit decision and reinstate the decision of the district court.

Now, it is important to understand that in this--

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

While you are on that subject, Mr. Youngman is no longer a member of the School Board, is he?

James Madison Smart, Jr.:

--Mr. Youngman is no longer a member of the School Board, as I understand it.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

And, he no longer has any children in the school?

James Madison Smart, Jr.:

He has a child in the Williamsport Area High School.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

How old?

James Madison Smart, Jr.:

I believe his child is in the ninth grade, if I am not mistaken.

John Paul Stevens:

Now, how does that bear on the issues.