Good News Club v. Milford Central School

PETITIONER: Good News Club
RESPONDENT: Milford Central School
LOCATION: Milford Central School

DOCKET NO.: 99-2036
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 533 US 98 (2001)
ARGUED: Feb 28, 2001
DECIDED: Jun 11, 2001

ADVOCATES:
Frank W. Miller - Argued the cause for the respondent
Thomas Marcelle - Argued the cause for the petitioners

Facts of the case

Under New York law, Milford Central School policy authorizes district residents to use its building after school for certain activities. Stephen and Darleen Fournier were district residents eligible to use the school's facilities. They sought approval of their proposed use and sponsorship of the Good News Club, a private Christian organization for children. The Fourniers submitted a request to hold the Club's weekly afterschool meetings at the school. Milford denied the request reasoning that the proposed use, including singing songs, hearing Bible lessons, memorizing scripture, and praying, was the equivalent of religious worship prohibited by the community use policy. The Club filed suit alleging that the denial violated its free speech rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Ultimately, the District Court granted Milford summary judgment. In affirming, the Court of Appeals held that because the subject matter of the Club's was "quintessentially religious", and the activities "fall outside the bounds of pure 'moral and character development,'" Milford's policy of excluding the Club's meetings was constitutional subject discrimination, not unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.

Question

Did Milford Central School violate the First Amendment free speech rights of the Good News Club when it excluded the Club from meeting after hours at the school? If a violation occurred, was it justified by Milford's concern that permitting the Club's activities would violate the Establishment Clause?

Media for Good News Club v. Milford Central School

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 28, 2001 in Good News Club v. Milford Central School

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 11, 2001 in Good News Club v. Milford Central School

The Opinion of the Court in No. 99-2036 Good New Club versus Milford Central School will be announced by Justice Thomas.

Clarence Thomas:

This case comes to us on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Respondent Milford Central School authorizes district residents to use its building after school for instruction and education, learning or the arts, and social, civic, recreational, and the entertainment uses pertaining to the community welfare.

Petitioners Good News Club, a private Christian organization for children, sought approval to use the school’s facilities.

Milford denied the Club’s request to hold its weekly meetings after school in the school’s building on the ground that the Club’s proposed use was equivalent of religious worship.

Petitioners filed suit under Section 1983, alleging that the denial of the Club’s application violated its free speech rights.

The District Court granted Milford summary judgment.

The Second Circuit affirmed, and held that because the Club’s subject matter was quintessentially religious and its activities fell outside the bounds of pure moral and character development, Milford's policy was constitutional.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we reverse.

Because the parties so agree, we assume that Milford operates a limited public forum.

Accordingly, in operating its forum, Milford must not discriminate against speech base on viewpoint.

We hold that Milford by denying the Club access on the ground that the Club is religious in nature, discriminated against the Club because of its religious viewpoint in violation of Free Speech Clause.

Milford’s exclusion of the Club is indistinguishable from the unconstitutional exclusions in Lamb’s Chapel, and Rosenberger versus Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia.

We also conclude that permitting the Club to meet on the school’s premises would not have violated the Establishment Clause.

First, we rejected Establishment Clause defense as similar to Milford’s in Lamb’s Chapel, and also in Widmar versus Vincent.

Second, we reject Milford’s attempt to distinguish those cases by emphasizing that its policy involves elementary school children.

We have never foreclosed private religious conducts during non-school hours merely because it takes place on school premises where elementary school children maybe present.

Justice Scalia has filed a concurring opinion; Justice Breyer has filed an opinion concurring in part; Justice Stevens has filed a dissenting opinion; Justice Souter has filed a dissenting opinion, which Justice Ginsburg has joined.