Bible-club ruling to cost Minneapolis School District $100,000

  • Updated: October 10, 2012 - 11:19 PM

The Minneapolis school district will abide by a federal appeals court ruling that the district cannot exclude a Bible-oriented club from its after-school activities program.

The decision not to appeal the ruling clears the way for similar clubs in other schools. A settlement approved by the school board Tuesday will cost the district $100,000 in legal fees to the organization sponsoring the club.

A staff memo said higher costs likely would have been awarded had the court ruled on the group's request for a higher amount.

The August ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit came on a request by the Child Evangelism Fellowship of Minnesota to maintain its standing as an after-school community partner at Jenny Lind Elementary School.

The fellowship, a local chapter of a group based in Missouri, gained access to Jenny Lind Elementary in 2000 to hold its weekly "good-news clubs" for students ages 5 to 12. The meetings involve Bible stories, lessons on moral and character development, prayer, songs and creative activities. They are open to all students, with parental permission.

The fellowship lost its status as an after-school partner at the North Side school in 2009 after a school employee raised concerns about its prayer and proselytizing activities. Although the program still was able to meet at the school, it lost its access to district bus and food services. The changes cut attendance from 47 to five students, the court said.

The Appeals Court ruled that the change constituted impermissible "viewpoint discrimination." The establishment clause requires neutrality, rather than hostility, toward religion, according to previous federal court rulings, which have held that such religious activity is private speech that is not school-sponsored.

Dave Tunell, the Child Evangelism Fellowship's state director, said he hopes three or four more after-school clubs could emerge from summer events conducted by churches in city parks.

STEVE BRANDT

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