In 2005, Christian Legal Society successfully helped Child Evangelism Fellowship of Maryland (“Maryland CEF”) to gain after-school access to Anne Arundel County Public Schools (“AACPS”) after AACPS unconstitutionally attempted to charge fees to Maryland CEF while granting free access to similarly situated organizations. For years afterwards, Maryland CEF held Good News Club meetings at multiple schools in Anne Arundel. In 2019, Anne Arundel County informed Maryland CEF that its continued access to public school facilities would require payment of exorbitant fees. On January 22, 2020, CLS sent a letter to AACPS and Anne Arundel Recreation and Parks informing them that providing access to religious organizations on less favorable terms than similarly situated organizations violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Within days of the letter, Maryland CEF regained access to one school in Anne Arundel County. CLS continues to push for full restoration for Maryland CEF.
Providing Spiritual Care to the Next Generation
Child Evangelism Fellowship of Maryland (“Maryland CEF”) is a Christian Ministry that runs Good News Clubs throughout the state of Maryland. Good News Club is an after-school ministry in which trained volunteers meet with groups of children to discuss Bible lessons, sing songs, memorize Scripture, and play games and activities focused on the lesson’s theme.
Governments May Not Discriminate Against Religious Organizations in Access to Facilities
In 2005, Anne Arundel County Public Schools was unconstitutionally charging religious organizations, including Maryland CEF, higher fees than other organizations for using its facilities. After intervention by CLS, AACPS indicated that “no charges will be imposed on any [Good News Club] student groups at any public school in Anne Arundel County.” With this understanding, Maryland CEF held Good News Clubs in public schools in Anne Arundel County without issue.
Yet in 2019, Anne Arundel County expelled Maryland CEF out of the public schools in which CEF was meeting. The school system told Maryland CEF that it would have to pay thousands of dollars to return. Given CLS’ previous success in restoring Maryland CEF to schools in Anne Arundel County, Maryland CEF reached out to CLS to help regain access to schools in Anne Arundel County.
The Center for Law and Religious Freedom Steps in to Restore Equal Access
On January 22, 2020, The Center for Law and Religious Freedom sent a letter to Anne Arundel County Public Schools and Anne Arundel County Recreation and Parks advising them that denying equal access to Maryland CEF violates the law and constitutes viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment. Just three days later, Maryland CEF was informed that it was approved for access to one of three schools from which it had been removed. CLS continues to press for Maryland CEF’s access to be restored to the other schools in Anne Arundel County.
As the Supreme Court has repeatedly held, the Government cannot deny religious organizations generally available benefits simply because they are religious. CLS is fighting to help re-establish religious freedom and equal treatment by ensuring that Maryland CEF has the same access to school facilities as other similarly-situated organizations.