Board of Education of Westside Community Schools v. Mergens By and Through Mergens Page 16

Board of Education of Westside Community Schools v. Mergens By and Through Mergens general information

Media for Board of Education of Westside Community Schools v. Mergens By and Through Mergens

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 09, 1990 in Board of Education of Westside Community Schools v. Mergens By and Through Mergens

William H. Rehnquist:

You may answer the question.

Jay Alan Sekulow:

Thank you, Chief Justice.

In that particular situation, I think it would have to go beyond just expending resources.

There would have to be something more where there was instruction going on, or else in fact it would just not be more than, if you will, another club.

That there would have to be something during the curriculum where academic credit was given, supervision of a teacher and these types of things.

Thank you, Your Honor.

William H. Rehnquist:

Thank you, Mr. Sekulow.

General Starr, we'll hear now from you.

Kenneth W. Starr:

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

In the view of the United States, careful study of this statute and of the record compiled by the Congress in the course of considering, of vigorously debating and enacting this measure, reveals two overriding concerns or values.

The value of fairness and evenhandedness, of equality, in the treatment of public secondary school students.

And the value of liberty, especially First Amendment the liberties assured to all of our citizens, those who are deeply religious and those who are not.

As one of the co-sponsors of this overwhelmingly bipartisan measure, Senator Leahy of Vermont put it, this bill makes an important statement about ideas.

It says that ideas are sacred to Americans, whether or not they concern religion.

It says that student-initiated religious groups have the same rights to meet on school property during noninstructional time as any other groups.

John Paul Stevens:

But also these other groups we've talked about also have the same right, like the Ku Klux Klan and so forth?

Kenneth W. Starr:

Yes.

Certainly groups cannot be discriminated against on the basis of--

John Paul Stevens:

And... and Congress was motivated by treating all of them equally with one... one another.

Kenneth W. Starr:

--Of treating them equally, subject to--

John Paul Stevens:

You don't find in the legislative history a predominant interest in the religious groups?

Kenneth W. Starr:

--I beg your pardon?

John Paul Stevens:

You don't find in the legislative history a predominant interest in protecting the religious groups?

Kenneth W. Starr:

Oh, I think the primary thrust was to protect religious liberty, because the problem that presented itself to Congress was one of discrimination that was visited on the heads of students who wanted to participate in religious discussion.

It is quite clear, it could not be clearer, that the purpose of this statute was to eliminate discrimination against students who were religious and who wanted to engage in religious discussion voluntarily.

I quite agree with that.

Antonin Scalia:

And the other groups may have been included, the Ku Klux Klan and... and whatever, because of our establishment clause jurisprudence suggesting that you cannot accommodate religion without accommodating everybody else.

Kenneth W. Starr:

The bill was originally drafted so as to provided protection only to religious groups.

There was concern that, by virtue of constitutional interpretations of this Court and other courts, the statute should speak neutrally, to include political, philosophical and other grounds.

I hasten to add, however, that Congress was quite clear with respect to the authority of schools to maintain order and discipline.