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A U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the right of religious groups to meet in public school buildings will establish broad protections for free speech, legal experts say.

On June 11, the Court ruled in Good News Club v. Milford Central School that religious clubs cannot be prevented from meeting at public schools after hours if other private groups are allowed to meet during that time. In a 6-3 opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas, the Court said excluding a club because of its religious viewpoint violates the First Amendment.

"Overall this is a huge boon for religious freedom," says Jordan Lorence, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund. "The court essentially said you can't use the fact that someone is religious as an excuse to treat them worse than somebody else."

Thomas Marcelle, the attorney for the Good News Club, found particular significance in the Court's rejection of the argument that speech with an explicit evangelical message should not be protected alongside other speech.

No 'Wiggle Room'

The school district had argued that the Good News Club's activities—which included singing, praying, listening to Bible lessons and memorizing Scripture—constituted religious worship and could be barred under a New York law that prohibits religious groups from using public school buildings.

The club uses a curriculum from Child Evangelism Fellowship, a national group based in Warrenton, Missouri. CEF focuses on leading children to Christ. It has approximately 1,200 missionaries overseas, 700 full-time employees in the United States and Canada, and an additional 40,000 volunteers around the world.

Religious conservatives and Christian legal scholars hail the decision as a landmark free-speech case that will protect religious ...

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August 6, 2001

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