Public Schools Do Not Have To Help Evangelists, AU Tells Appeals Court

Public schools have no legal obligation to help an evangelical Christian group recruit children for religious instruction programs, Americans United has advised a federal appeals court.

Americans United and allied groups filed a joint friend-of-the-court brief March 25 arguing that a New Jersey public school does not have to allow the Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) to post signs in schools, participate in a "back-to-school night" and require teachers to distribute its promotional fliers in class.

The brief argues that if these activities are allowed, young children could easily assume that CEF is a school project that is backed by teachers and administrators.

"When they see their teachers give them CEF fliers, when they see the fliers posted on the walls of their school hallways, and when they see CEF representatives at school-sponsored 'Back-to-School Nights,' elementary school children will reasonably conclude that their school endorses CEF's religious message," asserts the brief. "In addition, the use of teachers and school facilities to invite young children to attend Club meetings will tend to place coercive pressure on the children to submit to evangelical indoctrination."

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2001 upheld the right of CEF and other religious groups to use public schools for meetings at the end of the school day on the same basis as other community organizations. But Americans United argues that schools are not constitutionally required to promote these organizations to students.

"CEF is asking public schools to help it find recruits for its fundamentalist indoctrination program," said AU Execu­tive Director Barry W. Lynn. "Public schools have no obligation to help this or any other religious group win new converts."

The case, Child Evangelism Fellow­ship v. Stafford Township School District, is pending before the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The AU brief, written by AU Litigation Counsel Alex Luchenitser, was also signed by the Anti-Defamation League, People For the American Way Foundation, the New Jersey Education Association and the Stafford Township Education Associa­tion.