Christian Club May Not Meet

The Good News Club got some bad news Tuesday.

Though the nation's highest court ruled Monday that the Christian youth group has the right to meet at a New York public school, the school district which fought the group is considering moves that would prevent these meetings from taking place.

Officials at Milford Central School district are weighing two options: barring all groups from meeting at the school, so as not to discriminate against one group over another, or pushing back starting times for all clubs until 5 p.m. or 6 p.m., which Good News says is too late for their meetings.

"That rules out the club meeting at the school," said the Rev. Stephen Fournier, organizer of the Good News Club and pastor at Milford Community Bible Church. "The best opportunity for us to reach the kids was right after school.''

The Supreme Court ruled it was legal for the group to use the public school after school hours; classes conclude hours before 5 p.m.

Superintendent Peter Livshin said the school board planned to meet Thursday to begin talking about a new policy and would have new rules in place before the beginning of the next school year.

In 1996, Fournier and his wife, Darleen, requested access to Milford's K-12 school so young children could learn Scripture, play games and listen to Bible stories. When they were denied, they sued, arguing the district allowed other groups like the Boy Scouts and 4-H use the facilities.

The district countered that permitting Good News Club meetings would amount to a school endorsement of Christianity — that very young children attending its 3 p.m. gatherings might believe the school endorsed the club's religious outlook.

"It has nothing to do with school," Darleen Fournier said Monday. "It's just using a school building after hours. We don't want the government mandating prayer over the public address system or something like that."

The club first won and then lost federal court permission to use school space. Last year, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the club, calling its activities "quintessentially religious."

By a 6-3 vote Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that once Milford opened its doors to after-school civic meetings with a moral theme, the school district could not exclude an evangelism club without violating First Amendment free-speech rights.

"We always said this was a free speech issue," Fournier said. "This ruling is going to affect clubs all across the country. Any time you're fighting for a freedom, everybody benefits."

The case from this village in upstate New York became a closely watched church-state battle. Groups ranging from the National Council of Churches to the American Civil Liberties Union filed friend-of-the-court briefs.

David Ernst of the New York State School Boards Association said the ruling will certainly impact other school districts.

"Districts are going to have to be aware that when they make a decision to give access to some groups, the implications of this decision is that they are not able to deny access to groups like the Good News Club," Ernst said.

Milford straddles Route 28 midway between the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta. In the community, even at the school of 530 students, the legal fight caused few ripples.

"I admire the Good News Club for their tenacity in pursuing something they believe in. It's what this country is all about," said Livshin, who nonetheless disagreed with the court's ruling.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.