Rhode Island School District Blocks Christian Club from Holding After-School Meetings

By Steven Kovac
Steven Kovac
Steven Kovac
Steven Kovac reports for The Epoch Times from Michigan. He is a general news reporter who has covered topics related to rising consumer prices to election security issues. He is a former small-business owner, local elected official, and conservative political activist. He can be reached at steven.kovac@epochtimes.us
March 19, 2023Updated: March 20, 2023

The Providence Public School District (PPSD) is being sued in federal court for refusing to allow a Christian club to hold after-school meetings on school property.

According to the complaint, for two years the district has ignored multiple applications from the plaintiff, the Child Evangelism Fellowship of Rhode Island, to allow a local chapter of its Good News Club to meet at school once a week immediately after dismissal.

Plaintiff alleges that all the while PPSD has been approving applications by student groups such as the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, the Boys Club, the Girls Club, as well as the YMCA, to hold their meetings.

“The law is clear that public schools cannot discriminate against the Christian viewpoint of Good News Clubs. Equal access means equal treatment in terms of the use of the facilities, including fee waivers, time of meetings, and announcements.

“The Good News Club must be given equal treatment as the non-religious groups,” said Mat Staver, the founder, and chairman of Liberty Counsel, a Christian advocacy legal foundation representing the Child Evangelism Fellowship of Rhode Island.

Liberty Counsel cited as precedent a 2001 case, Good News Club v Milford Central School, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is a violation of the First Amendment for a school to not provide equal access and equal treatment to Christian clubs when facilities are open to secular clubs.

Staver told The Epoch Times in a March 17 phone interview that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic-inspired suspension of extracurricular activities, Good News Clubs were permitted in Providence schools.

Religious Discrimination

“When restrictions were lifted all the other clubs were allowed to resume meeting except the Good News Club,” he said.

“I believe it was because the Good News Club is a Christian club.”

Superintendent Javier Montanez is also a named defendant in the suit.

The PPSD administration did not respond to an email from The Epoch Times requesting comment.

The case was filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island.

Injunctions Sought

The plaintiff is seeking a preliminary and a permanent injunction against the school district’s enforcement of its “unconstitutional policies” that prohibit the Good News Club from meeting while secular clubs are allowed to do so.

To avoid the need for litigation, Liberty Counsel wrote several letters to school district officials “setting forth the applicable facts, policies, and the law.” It then requested prompt approval of the CEF’s applications to meet after school like all the other clubs, according to a recent press release.

The Child Evangelism Fellowship of Rhode Island is a Christian non-profit affiliated with the international non-profit Child Evangelism Fellowship Inc.

Good News Club meetings are run by local community leaders that have been vetted and trained by CEF.

The club’s mission is to build character and leadership, encourage an attitude of service to others, promote learning, and stimulate spiritual growth in elementary and middle school students.

Participation is free. Written parental permission is required.

Currently, there are 4,800 Good News Clubs across the nation, with 11 operating in Rhode Island as of December 2022.

Reach Them While They’re Young

Staver told The Epoch Times, “It’s critically important to have such clubs. They focus on the ‘Four-to-Fourteen Window,’ the years of a child’s life which are the most formative in establishing their values and faith and molding the future direction of their lives.

“Activists pushing the LGBTQ agenda know this and they are going after this age group.”

Through its decades-long fight for the rights of Good News Clubs to operate across America, Liberty Counsel has collected sworn affidavits from principals, school bus drivers, and others who testify that when a Good News Club comes to a school, there is a visible improvement in student behavior and respect for one another.

“These affidavits show the effectiveness of this Christian ministry in instilling good morals, honesty, integrity, and respect in our nation’s school children,” said Staver.

“In all that time Liberty Counsel has never lost a case involving Good News Clubs,” said Holly Meade, vice-president of media with the Counsel.