A federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction against a policy that requires Good News Clubs in Indiana to pay a fee for using a school's facilities while waiving fees for other groups.
District Judge William T. Lawrence granted an injunction sought by Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) of Indiana Inc., against Policy 7510, which gives the Pike Township Metropolitan School District superintendent unfettered discretion to determine which groups are required to pay a facilities usage fee.
CEF, which operates a Bible-based after-school program for elementary students called Good News Clubs, argued that it should not be required to pay $45 per event to rent a classroom at New Augusta Public Academy South for its programs.
The school district has required the evangelistic organization to pay facilities usage fees for the Good News Clubs, while waiving the fees for other similarly situated, non-religious groups.
CEF sought the injunction after learning that organizations such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are allowed to use facilities free of charge, and after the district denied its request for similar treatment.
In his ruling, Lawrence noted that Pike Schools had argued that the groups that were not required to pay were "invited to participate in [the District's] education programs."
The district claimed that the groups had partnered with Pike Schools to provide programming consistent with the district's educational mission, while CEF sought permission to "use the facilities for their own purposes."
However, the school district had admitted that it does not have an established criteria to determine when a group can become a "partner," Lawrence noted.
"[I]n fact, the District is not able to provide a list of its own partners," the judge wrote, as reported by TheIndianaLawyer.com.
"This type of unbridled discretion and vague, unwritten 'partner' policy violates the First Amendment. Therefore, whether the District has chosen not to waive CEF's fees based on CEF's viewpoint or for a constitutionally permissible reason, the fact remains that CEF is likely to succeed on the merits with regard to its claim that the District's policy is unconstitutional on its face," he added.
The judge has prohibited Pike Schools from charging facilities rental fees until the district develops a policy with a "reasonable criteria" for determining which groups are allowed to use its facilities without charge.
Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, which represents CEF nationwide, hailed the federal judge's decision.
"This ruling comes just in time for the beginning of a new school year. Good News Clubs are good for children, parents, and especially good for schools," he said.