Good News Club v. Milford Central School

533 U.S. 98, 121 S. Ct. 2093 (2001)



When the State establishes a limited public forum, the State is not required to and does not allow persons to engage in every type of speech. The State may be justified in reserving its forum for certain groups or for the discussion of certain topics. The State's power to restrict speech, however, is not without limits. The restriction must not discriminate against speech on the basis of viewpoint, and the restriction must be reasonable in light of the purpose served by the forum.


Respondent school opened its facilities to activities that served a variety of purposes, including discussions of subjects such as child rearing and of the development of character and morals. However, the community use policy prohibited use by any individual or organization for religious purposes. Petitioner club applied to use the facilities for after school meetings, but respondent denied the request, finding that the proposed use was the equivalent of religious worship. Petitioners sued respondent, alleging free speech violations. 


Did Milford Central School violate the free speech rights of the Good News Club when it excluded the Club from meeting after hours at the school?




On certiorari review, the Court reversed the grant of summary judgment in favor of respondent. The Court determined that respondent engaged in impermissible viewpoint discrimination when it excluded petitioner club from the after school forum. 

By denying the Club access to the school's limited public forum on the ground that the Club was religious in nature, Milford discriminated against the Club because of its religious viewpoint in violation of the Free Speech Clause. That exclusion is indistinguishable from the exclusions held violative of the Clause in Lamb's Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School Dist., 508 U.S. 384, 124 L. Ed. 2d 352, 113 S. Ct. 2141, where a school district precluded a private group from presenting films at the school based solely on the religious perspective of the films, and in Rosenberger,where a university refused to fund a student publication because it addressed issues from a religious perspective. The only apparent difference between the activities of Lamb's Chapel and the Club is the inconsequential distinction that the Club teaches moral lessons from a Christian perspective through live storytelling and prayer, whereas Lamb's Chapel taught lessons through films. Rosenberger also is dispositive: Given the obvious religious content of the publication there at issue, it cannot be said that the Club's activities are any more "religious" or deserve any less Free Speech Clause protection. This Court disagrees with the Second Circuit's view that something that is quintessentially religious or decidedly religious in nature cannot also be characterized properly as the teaching of morals and character development from a particular viewpoint. What matters for Free Speech Clause purposes is that there is no logical difference in kind between the invocation of Christianity by the Club and the invocation of teamwork, loyalty, or patriotism by other associations to provide a foundation for their lessons. Because Milford's restriction is viewpoint discriminatory, the Court need not decide whether it is unreasonable in light of the forum's purposes.

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