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InsiderOnline Blog: October 2004

Christians and Public Property

Well, this sounds like every liberal's dream-- an after-school program for disadvantaged children at a public school. Problem is, the program is run by a Christian ministry in California.

Predictably, the school board of this California town let its concern for preserving a secular public sector before its concern for religious freedom or for the disadvantaged children benefiting from the program. The Pacific Justice Institute, a public interest law firm in California specializing in religious discrimination cases (well, they're not hurting for work, that's for sure), spoke up for Sonshine Haven and scored a victory. From the PJI press release:

Santee, CA- The Pacific Justice Institute achieved a victory this week on behalf of a Santee, California, children’s ministry that was faced with discrimination. Sonshine Haven, a local organization that provides after school programs and spiritual guidance to disadvantaged children, had been renting a facility from the Santee School District for the last several years. This year, pursuant to a change in school board policy, Sonshine Haven’s assessed rental fees increased more than tenfold while the rental fees for other similar groups were not changed at all. In fact, according to representatives from Sonshine Haven, the local Boy and Girls Scouts were not charged for their use of the facility “so long as they agreed to avoid any religious teachings.”

After receiving a request from Sonshine Haven for assistance, the Pacific Justice Institute sent a legal demand letter to the school district, notifying them of the rights and protections accorded to ministries like Sonshine Haven. In response to our letter, the district agreed not to charge Sonshine Haven a user fee after all. In addition, the district pledged to review all of its policies, and even its entire fee structure, for the use of school property in order to ensure compliance with state and federal law.

“It is patently unlawful for religious organizations to be treated in a discriminatory manner by public agencies in terms of their rental fees,” said Brad Dacus, President of the Pacific Justice Institute. “Whether the group is a church, children’s ministry, or the Boy Scouts, these organizations have a right to the same privileges and benefits of other non-religious associations without having to compromise their religious views and teachings.”

Kudos to the Santee school board for heeding a letter and not going to court with the good people of California's tax money. But I'm still amazed how many press releases I get just like this one.

Posted on 10/07/04 04:22 PM by Mary Katherine Ham

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