480 F.Supp. 907 (W.D.Mo. 1979), 77-0756-W-2, Chess v. Widmar

Docket Nº:77-0756-W-2.
Citation:480 F.Supp. 907
Party Name:Florian Frederick CHESS, Dale Rhoton, Ronald Barnes, Glenn P. Garrison, Kathleen Anne Aguirre, Douglas Neef, Vincent Clark and James S. Colmer, Jr., Plaintiffs, v. Gary E. WIDMAR, the Board of Curators of the University of Missouri, Barbara Berkmeyer, Daniel L. Brenner, Robert A. Demptster, William T. Doak, C. R. Johnston and Marian Oldham, Defenda
Case Date:December 11, 1979
Court:United States District Courts, 8th Circuit, Western District of Missouri

Page 907

480 F.Supp. 907 (W.D.Mo. 1979)

Florian Frederick CHESS, Dale Rhoton, Ronald Barnes, Glenn P. Garrison, Kathleen Anne Aguirre, Douglas Neef, Vincent Clark and James S. Colmer, Jr., Plaintiffs,


Gary E. WIDMAR, the Board of Curators of the University of Missouri, Barbara Berkmeyer, Daniel L. Brenner, Robert A. Demptster, William T. Doak, C. R. Johnston and Marian Oldham, Defendants.

No. 77-0756-W-2.

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division.

Dec. 11, 1979

Page 908

James M. Smart, Jr., William H. Pickett, Kansas City, Mo., for plaintiffs.

Jackson A. Wright, Marvin E. Wright, James S. Newberry and Ted D. Ayres, Columbia, Mo., for defendants.


COLLINSON, District Judge.

This action was filed on October 13, 1977 by eleven students at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (hereinafter university). The eleven students are part of a religious group called Cornerstone, which is an officially recognized student group at the university. The students' complaint alleges that university officials have refused to allow the students involved in Cornerstone to conduct their regular religious services in university-owned buildings. The students contend that the university's refusal to permit their group to use university facilities violates their rights guaranteed by the first and fourteenth amendments to the United States Constitution. On July 18, 1978, the students filed an amended complaint in which they request both a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief.

The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment and have stipulated that the following facts are not in dispute.

1. Cornerstone is an officially recognized student organization at the campus of the University of Missouri Kansas City (UMKC). UMKC is a part of the University

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of Missouri system which is governed by the Board of Curators of the University of Missouri, which is an official body established by the state constitution of Missouri for the government of the University and its affairs.

2. The individuals named as plaintiffs were enrolled as students at UMKC at the time this action was commenced and were involved in Cornerstone. Plaintiffs Garrison, Aguirre, Colmer and Cyman are not presently enrolled as students at UMKC. The balance of the named plaintiffs are still presently enrolled at UMKC, and still participate in Cornerstone activities.

3. Under past and current policy of the University of Missouri, one of the benefits afforded recognized student organizations is the privilege of using the student center and certain other facilities of the University as a place in which to meet, subject to certain limitations as to time, place and conduct of the proposed meeting.

4. Each student enrolling at the University of Missouri-Kansas City pays a "Center Activities Athletic Fee." This fee is $35.00 for all those enrolling for at least ten credit hours of instruction, and is something less for those taking fewer hours of instruction. The proceeds from the "Center Activities Athletic Fee" go, in part, to fund the operation of the student center (referred to at many schools as a student union).

5. The following regulations are presently in effect at UMKC and throughout all campuses of the University and have been in effect since sometime in 1972:

4.0314.0107 No university buildings or grounds (except chapels as herein provided) may be used for purposes of religious worship or religious teaching by either student or non-student groups. Student congregations of local churches or of recognized denominations or sects, although not technically recognized campus groups, may use the facilities, commonly referred to as the student union or center or commons under the same regulations that apply to recognized campus organizations, provided that no University facilities may be used for purposes of religious worship or religious teaching. The general prohibition against use of University buildings and grounds for religious worship or religious teaching is a policy required, in the opinion of The Board of Curators, by the Constitution and laws of the State and is not open to any other construction. No regulations shall be interpreted to forbid the offering of prayer or other appropriate recognition of religion at public functions held in University facilities. This provision does apply to such buildings as may be designated under provision of part .0106.

4.0314.0108 Regular chapels established on University grounds may be used for religious services but not for regular recurring services of any groups. Special rules and procedures shall be established for each such chapel by the Chancellor. It is specifically directed that no advantage shall be given to any religious group.

6. In early January, 1977, pursuant to established University procedures, Cornerstone applied for the privilege of using the University facilities, on a regular basis, for holding Cornerstone meetings.

7. Said application of Cornerstone was rejected on or about February 4, 1977, because the University, after asking for clarification as to the activities to be conducted at the proposed meetings, concluded that the conduct of the proposed meetings would be in violation of regulations 4.0314.0107 and 4.0314.0108. In reaching such conclusions, the University relied primarily on the letter of one of plaintiffs' attorneys, which was written on behalf of Cornerstone to Mr. Gary E. Widmar, Dean of Students, UMKC. The letter states:

Re: Request of Cornerstone

Re: for use of University

Re: Facilities

Dear Dean Widmar:

Thank you for meeting with my clients and me on January 20. You will recall that at that time we briefly discussed the request of Cornerstone for the use of

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university facilities, and I advised you that I would be submitting a legal memorandum supporting our view that the law prohibits the discriminatory banning of religious activities from university property.

Since you mentioned that you had been consulting with Mr. Marvin Wright of the University Counsel's office in regard to this question, I decided that I would address the legal memorandum to Mr. Wright and furnish you with a copy. But I also wish to take this opportunity to respond to your request for more information regarding the nature and purpose of the Cornerstone meetings.

Typical Cornerstone meetings in University facilities usually include the following:

1. The offering of prayer;

2. The singing of hymns in praise and thanksgiving;

3. The public reading of scripture;

4. The sharing of personal views and experiences (in relation to God) by various persons;

5. An exposition of, and commentary on, passages of the Bible by one or more persons for the purpose of teaching practical biblical principles; and

6. An invitation to the interested to meet for a personal discussion.

As you probably already know, these meetings are open to the public. Any students, be they Jewish, Christian, Moslem, or any other persuasion are invited, and, in fact, actively recruited by the students in Cornerstone.

Although these meetings would not appear to a casual observer to correspond precisely to a traditional worship service, there is no doubt that worship is an important part of the general atmosphere. There also is no doubt that the undecided and the uncommitted are encouraged and challenged to make a personal decision in favor of trusting in Jesus Christ both for salvation and for the power to live an abundant Christian life on earth.

There are no collections or solicitations of funds at these meetings, and there are no specific rituals or practices of any particular denomination or sect.

I assume that the foregoing information will be sufficient. If more is needed, please let me know and we will be happy to provide it for you. In the meantime, I am herewith resubmitting in behalf of Cornerstone the group's request for the use of University facilities.

In view of the recent Delaware decision enclosed with my letter to Mr. Wright, I do not feel the University could be criticized for allowing Cornerstone to continue to meet pending further clarification of the law. And I must point out that it is very important to my clients that they be able to continue to use University facilities, particularly in view of some special meetings planned during mid-February.

Thank you for your consideration.

Very truly yours,

James M. Smart, Jr.

8. As a result of said rejection of the application of Cornerstone to use University facilities, Cornerstone has not been permitted to use the University facilities as a place in which to hold meetings of the type described in their application since the date of the rejection of said application. In addition, Cornerstone has not been permitted to hold small group Bible studies on the University lawn or in other University facilities.

9. Although various religious groups, including Cornerstone, have been permitted to meet in the facilities of the University in the past, neither the Chancellor nor the Dean of Students of the University of Missouri Kansas City have ever authorized a student organization to utilize a University facility for a meeting where they had full knowledge that the purposes of the meeting include religious worship or religious teaching.

10. The University has only one physical facility designated as a chapel and it is located on the Columbia campus of the University and was built and paid for totally by private donations and funds.

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11. If Florian Frederick Chess were summoned to testify of his personal knowledge as to matters pertinent to the issues of this case, his testimony would be the same as the content of his affidavit dated September 29, 1977, and filed with the Motion for Preliminary Injunction in this case. In that affidavit, Mr. Chess states:

1. I am a student...

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