October 2004 Church & State | AU Bulletin

Public schools teachers have the right to run student religious clubs on site immediately after the school day ends, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Sept. 3 that education officials in Sioux Falls, S.D., violated teacher Barbara Wigg’s rights by forbidding her from running an evangelical Christian “Good News” club at Laura B. Anderson Elementary School.

Officials at the school had told Wigg she could run the Christian club at another school but not her own. They said they were concerned that children would not understand that the club was not school sponsored.

But the court held that Wigg’s activities were permissible, since they took place after the school day.

Good News Clubs are sponsored by Child Evangelism Fellowship, a national organization that seeks to convert elementary-school-aged children to fundamentalist Christianity. The Supreme Court upheld the right of the clubs to meet after hours at public schools in 2001, and since then Religious Right activists have been active in the courts trying to expand the scope of the decision.

“There are many teachers and other school employees all over the country who, immediately after the last bell for the day, would like to begin teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, teaching morals and character and good news about the life-changing power of the gospel to students in the schools,” Mat Staver, an attorney for the Jerry Falwell-related group Liberty Counsel, told AgapePress. “Up until now, these school employees have not been allowed to do so.”

Staver asserted that the ruling “literally blows the door wide open” and “turns the clock back many, many decades” in allowing teachers to take part in religious activity in public schools. (Wigg v. Sioux Falls School District 49-5)