Recently, The Satanic Temple announced that it plans starting after school clubs for the coming school year and sent letters to a number of public school districts advising them of its intentions. Under a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, K-12 public schools must allow these clubs if they allow secular community groups to use their facilities. But a key supporter of the 2001 decision and after-school access for Christian "Good News Clubs" erroneously disagrees.
In its Good News Clubs v. Milford Central School decision, the Supreme Court ruled that public schools must treat religious and secular community groups on the same terms and conditions in after-school access to facilities. So if a school allows a secular group to use its facilities, it must do the same for religious groups.
Firmly believing that providing after-school access to religious organizations constitutes unconstitutional endorsement of religion, ADL in 2000 filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S Supreme Court opposing such access. However, this decision remains the law of the land. Fifteen years later, numerous Good News Clubs operate in our nation’s public elementary and middle schools.
Liberty Counsel, a self-described Christian ministry “dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family,” is an active defender the 2001 decision and legally represents Good News Clubs across the country. But it now erroneously claims that public schools can bar The Satanic Temple clubs, which Liberty Counsel characterizes as “not legitimate,” while permitting Good News and other religious clubs. The schools would be wise not to follow this advice. They are constitutionally barred from determing whether a religion is "legitimate," and picking and choosing among religions. Rather, they can either allow or deny all community groups both secular and religious.
This issue is a clear reminder that religious freedom in America is for all faiths and why the Good News decision remains problematic. The introduction of organized religious activities in public schools is religiously divisive and risks religious coercion. For these reasons, ADL believes that constitutionally- mandated separation of church and state must be most robust in our nation’s public schools. Although this belief may be distasteful to some, this position is not one of hostility towards religion. Rather, it reflects a profound respect for religious freedom and recognition of the extraordinary diversity of faiths and religious beliefs represented in our nation’s public schools.