533 U.S. 98 (2001), 99-2036, Good News Club v. Milford Central School

Docket NºNo. 99-2036
Citation533 U.S. 98, 121 S.Ct. 2093, 150 L.Ed.2d 151
Party NameGOOD NEWS CLUB et al. v. MILFORD CENTRAL SCHOOL
Case DateJune 11, 2001
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 98

533 U.S. 98 (2001)

121 S.Ct. 2093, 150 L.Ed.2d 151

GOOD NEWS CLUB et al.

v.

MILFORD CENTRAL SCHOOL

No. 99-2036

United States Supreme Court

June 11, 2001

Argued February 28, 2001

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Under New York law, respondent Milford Central School (Milford) enacted a policy authorizing district residents to use its building after school for, among other things, (1) instruction in education, learning, or the arts and (2) social, civic, recreational, and entertainment uses pertaining to the community welfare. Stephen and Darleen Fournier, district residents eligible to use the school's facilities upon approval of their proposed use, are sponsors of the Good News Club, a private Christian organization for children ages 6 to 12. Pursuant to Milford's policy, they submitted a request to hold the Club's weekly after school meetings in the school. Milford denied the request on the ground that the proposed use—to sing songs, hear Bible lessons, memorize scripture, and pray—was the equivalent of religious worship prohibited by the community use policy. Petitioners (collectively, the Club), filed suit under 42 U.S.C. §1983, alleging, inter alia, that the denial of the Club's application violated its free speech rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The District Court ultimately granted Milford summary judgment, finding the Club's subject matter to be religious in nature, not merely a discussion of secular matters from a religious perspective that Milford otherwise permits. Because the school had not allowed other groups providing religious instruction to use its limited public forum, the court held that it could deny the Club access without engaging in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination. In affirming, the Second Circuit rejected the Club's contention that Milford's restriction was unreasonable, and held that, because the Club's subject matter was quintessentially religious and its activities fell outside the bounds of pure moral and character development, Milford's policy was constitutional subject discrimination, not unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.

Held:

1. Milford violated the Club's free speech rights when it excluded the Club from meeting after hours at the school. Pp. 106-112.

(a) Because the parties so agree, this Court assumes that Milford operates a limited public forum. A State establishing such a forum is not required to and does not allow persons to engage in every type of

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speech. It may be justified in reserving its forum for certain groups or the discussion of certain topics. E. g., Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of Univ. of Va., 515 U.S. 819, 829. The power to so restrict speech, however, is not without limits. The restriction must not discriminate against speech based on viewpoint, ibid., and must be reasonable in light of the forum's purpose, Cornelius v. NAACP Legal Defense & Ed. Fund, Inc., 473 U.S. 788, 806. Pp. 106-107.

(b) By denying the Club access to the school's limited public forum on the ground that the Club was religious in nature, Milford discriminated against the Club because of its religious viewpoint in violation of the Free Speech Clause. That exclusion is indistinguishable from the exclusions held violative of the Clause in Lamb's Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School Dist., 508 U.S. 384, where a school district precluded a private group from presenting films at the school based solely on the religious perspective of the films, and in Rosenberger, where a university refused to fund a student publication because it addressed issues from a religious perspective. The only apparent difference between the activities of Lamb's Chapel and the Club is the inconsequential distinction that the Club teaches moral lessons from a Christian perspective through live story telling and prayer, whereas Lamb's Chapel taught lessons through films. Rosenberger also is dispositive: Given the obvious religious content of the publication there at issue, it cannot be said that the Club's activities are any more "religious" or deserve any less Free Speech Clause protection. This Court disagrees with the Second Circuit's view that something that is quintessentially religious or decidedly religious in nature cannot also be characterized properly as the teaching of morals and character development from a particular viewpoint. What matters for Free Speech Clause purposes is that there is no logical difference in kind between the invocation of Christianity by the Club and the invocation of teamwork, loyalty, or patriotism by other associations to provide a foundation for their lessons. Because Milford's restriction is viewpoint discriminatory, the Court need not decide whether it is unreasonable in light of the forum's purposes. Pp. 107-112.

2. Permitting the Club to meet on the school's premises would not have violated the Establishment Clause. Establishment Clause defenses similar to Milford's were rejected in Lamb's Chapel, supra, at 395—where the Court found that, because the films would not have been shown during school hours, would not have been sponsored by the school, and would have been open to the public, not just to church members, there was no realistic danger that the community would think that the district was endorsing religion—and in Widmar v. Vincent, 454 U.S. 263, 272-273, and n. 13—where a university's forum was

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already available to other groups. Because the Club's activities are materially indistinguishable from those in Lamb's Chapel and Widmar, Milford's reliance on the Establishment Clause is unavailing. As in Lamb's Chapel, the Club's meetings were to be held after school hours, not sponsored by the school, and open to any student who obtained parental consent, not just to Club members. As in Widmar, Milford made its forum available to other organizations. The Court rejects Milford's attempt to distinguish those cases by emphasizing that its policy involves elementary school children who will perceive that the school is endorsing the Club and will feel coerced to participate because the Club's activities take place on school grounds, even though they occur during nonschool hours. That argument is unpersuasive for a number of reasons. (1) Allowing the Club to speak on school grounds would ensure, not threaten, neutrality toward religion. Accordingly, Milford faces an uphill battle in arguing that the Establishment Clause compels it to exclude the Club. See, e. g., Rosenberger, supra, at 839.(2) To the extent the Court considers whether the community would feel coercive pressure to engage in the Club's activities, cf. Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577, 592-593, the relevant community is the parents who choose whether their children will attend Club meetings, not the children themselves. (3) Whatever significance it may have assigned in the Establishment Clause context to the suggestion that elementary school children are more impressionable than adults, cf., e. g., id., at 592, the Court has never foreclosed private religious conduct during nonschool hours merely because it takes place on school premises where elementary school children may be present. Lee, supra, at 592, and Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578, 584, distinguished. (4) Even if the Court were to consider the possible misperceptions by school-children in deciding whether there is an Establishment Clause violation, the facts of this case simply do not support Milford's conclusion. Finally, it cannot be said that the danger that children would misperceive the endorsement of religion is any greater than the danger that they would perceive a hostility toward the religious viewpoint if the Club were excluded from the public forum. Because it is not convinced that there is any significance to the possibility that elementary school children may witness the Club's activities on school premises, the Court can find no reason to depart from Lamb's Chapel and Widmar. Pp. 112-119.

3. Because Milford has not raised a valid Establishment Clause claim, this Court does not address whether such a claim could excuse Milford's viewpoint discrimination. Pp. 113, 120.

202 F.3d 502, reversed and remanded.

Page 101

Thomas, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and O'Connor, Scalia, and Kennedy, JJ., joined, and in which Breyer, JJ., joined in part. Scalia, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 120. Breyer, J., filed an opinion concurring in part, post, p. 127. Stevens, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 130. Souter, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Ginsburg, J., joined, post, p. 134.

Thomas Marcelle argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the briefs were John W. Whitehead and Steven H. Aden.

Frank W. Miller argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Benjamin J. Ferrara and Norman H. Gross. [*]

Page 102

Justice Thomas delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents two questions. The first question is whether Milford Central School violated the free speech rights of the Good News Club when it excluded the Club from meeting after hours at the school. The second question is whether any such violation is justified by Milford's concern that permitting the Club's activities would violate the Establishment Clause. We conclude that Milford's restriction violates the Club's free speech rights and that no Establishment Clause concern justifies that violation.

I

The State of New York authorizes local school boards to adopt regulations governing the use of their school facilities. In particular, N. Y. Educ. Law § 414 (McKinney 2000) enumerates several purposes for which local boards may open their schools to public use. In 1992, respondent Milford Central School (Milford) enacted a community use policy adopting seven of § 414's purposes for which its building could be used...

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561 practice notes
  • Federal Law Protections for Religious Liberty
    • United States
    • Federal Register October 26, 2017
    • 26 Octubre 2017
    ...equal treatment of religious adherents. See Trinity Lutheran, 582 U.S. at __ (slip op. at 6); cf. Good News Club v. Milford Central Sch., 533 U.S. 98, 114 (2001) (recognizing that Establishment Clause does not justify discrimination against religious clubs seeking use of public meeting spac......
  • Viewpoint Neutrality Now! v. Regents of The University of Minnesota, 020221 MNDC, 20-CV-1055 (PJS/TNL)
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 8th Circuit United States District Court of Minnesota
    • 2 Febrero 2021
    ...Widmar v. Vincent, 454 U.S. 263, 281 (1981) (Stevens, J., concurring); see also Good News Club v. Milford Cent. Sch., 533 U.S. 98 (2001) (school's denial of after-school meeting space to club that wanted to discuss permissible topics, like child rearing, from a reli......
  • 463 F.Supp.3d 661 (E.D.Va. 2020), C. A. 3:17cv719, White Coat Waste Project v. Greater Richmond Transit Co.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 4th Circuit United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
    • 30 Mayo 2020
    ...and viewpoint neutral." Pleasant Grove City, 555 U.S. at 470, 129 S.Ct. 1125 (citing Good News Club v. Milford Cent. Sch., 533 U.S. 98, 106-07, 121 S.Ct. 2093, 150 L.Ed.2d 151 This level of scrutiny also applies to what courts have identified as the third type ......
  • InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA v. Board of Governors of Wayne State University, 040521 MIEDC, 19-10375
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 6th Circuit United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
    • 5 Abril 2021
    ...in every type of speech.” Hartman v. Thompson, 931 F.3d 471, 479 (6th Cir. 2019) (quoting Good News Club v. Milford Cent. Sch., 533 U.S. 98, 106 (2001)). Here, the undisputed facts show that Defendants approve and allow groups on Wayne State's Campus to become RSOs,......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
479 cases
  • Viewpoint Neutrality Now! v. Regents of The University of Minnesota, 020221 MNDC, 20-CV-1055 (PJS/TNL)
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 8th Circuit United States District Court of Minnesota
    • 2 Febrero 2021
    ...Widmar v. Vincent, 454 U.S. 263, 281 (1981) (Stevens, J., concurring); see also Good News Club v. Milford Cent. Sch., 533 U.S. 98 (2001) (school's denial of after-school meeting space to club that wanted to discuss permissible topics, like child rearing, from a reli......
  • 463 F.Supp.3d 661 (E.D.Va. 2020), C. A. 3:17cv719, White Coat Waste Project v. Greater Richmond Transit Co.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 4th Circuit United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
    • 30 Mayo 2020
    ...and viewpoint neutral." Pleasant Grove City, 555 U.S. at 470, 129 S.Ct. 1125 (citing Good News Club v. Milford Cent. Sch., 533 U.S. 98, 106-07, 121 S.Ct. 2093, 150 L.Ed.2d 151 This level of scrutiny also applies to what courts have identified as the third type ......
  • InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA v. Board of Governors of Wayne State University, 040521 MIEDC, 19-10375
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 6th Circuit United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
    • 5 Abril 2021
    ...in every type of speech.” Hartman v. Thompson, 931 F.3d 471, 479 (6th Cir. 2019) (quoting Good News Club v. Milford Cent. Sch., 533 U.S. 98, 106 (2001)). Here, the undisputed facts show that Defendants approve and allow groups on Wayne State's Campus to become RSOs,......
  • InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA v. Board of Governors of Wayne State University, 041321 MIEDC, 19-10375
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 6th Circuit United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
    • 13 Abril 2021
    ...in every type of speech.” Hartman v. Thompson, 931 F.3d 471, 479 (6th Cir. 2019) (quoting Good News Club v. Milford Cent. Sch., 533 U.S. 98, 106 (2001)). Here, the undisputed facts show that Defendants approve and allow groups on Wayne State's Campus to become RSOs,......
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1 firm's commentaries
73 books & journal articles
  • Religion in the New Republic
    • United States
    • Louisiana Law Review Nbr. 67-1, October 2006
    • 1 Octubre 2006
    ...(2000). [97] Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577 (1992). [98] Agostini v. Felton, 521 U.S. 203 (1997). [99] Good News Club v. Milford Cent. Sch., 533 U.S. 98 (2001). [100] Compare Patrick M. Garry, The Myth of Separation: America's Historical Experience with Church and State, 33 HOFSTRA L. REV. 47......
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    • United States
    • Michigan Law Review Vol. 105 Nbr. 1, October 2006
    • 1 Octubre 2006
    ...of the ACLU v. Eckels, 589 F. Supp. 222, 228 (S.D. Tex. 1984). (102.) Id. at 233. (103.) See, e.g., Good News Club v. Milford Cent. Sch., 533 U.S. 98 (2001); Capitol Square Review & Advisory Bd. v. Pinette, 515 U.S. 753 (1995); Lamb's Chapel v. Ctr. Moriches Union Free Sch. Dist., 508 U......
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    • Case Western Reserve Law Review Vol. 68 Nbr. 1, September 2017
    • 22 Septiembre 2017
    ...of some form of government speech inevitably supported in some way by taxes or exactions). (94.) See Good News Club v. Milford Cent. Sch., 533 U.S. 98, 119 (2001) (referring to a possible "modified heckler's veto ... on the basis of what the youngest members of the audience might mispe......
  • The failure of words: Habeas Corpus Reform, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, and when a judgment of conviction becomes final for the purposes of 28 U.S.C. s. 2255(1).
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    • William and Mary Law Review Vol. 44 Nbr. 1, October 2002
    • 1 Octubre 2002
    ...but in another sense required by law (because they would otherwise be barred by the one-year statute of limitations). Id. at 2138. (242.) 533 U.S. 107 (2001). Sherman Walker was convicted of several robberies; his last conviction was affirmed on June 12, 1995, and became final in April of 1......
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2 provisions
  • Federal Law Protections for Religious Liberty
    • United States
    • Federal Register October 26, 2017
    • 26 Octubre 2017
    ...equal treatment of religious adherents. See Trinity Lutheran, 582 U.S. at __ (slip op. at 6); cf. Good News Club v. Milford Central Sch., 533 U.S. 98, 114 (2001) (recognizing that Establishment Clause does not justify discrimination against religious clubs seeking use of public meeting spac......
  • Reports and guidance documents; availability, etc.: Constitutionally protected prayer in public elementary and secondary schools,
    • United States
    • Federal Register February 28, 2003
    • 24 Febrero 2003
    ...State power is no more to be used so as to handicap religions than it is to favor them''); Good News Club v. Milford Cent. Sch., 533 U.S. 98 \3\ Santa Fe Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290, 302 (2000) (quoting Board of Educ. v. Mergens, 496 U.S. 226, 250 (1990) (plurality opinion)); acc......