ILNews

Court: Church program at school should end

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

A church-owned religious education program held on school grounds in Huntington County should be terminated because it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, a federal magistrate has ruled.

In a 31-page order issued Tuesday, U.S. District Magistrate Roger Cosbey in the Northern District of Indiana's Fort Wayne division recommended granting a preliminary injunction in H.S. v. Huntington County Community School Corp., 1:08-CV-271.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed the suit in November on behalf of a third-grader's mom, who challenged the district's voluntary religious release-time education program known as "By the Book." Run by Associated Churches of Huntington County, the program uses modular trailers that are parked on elementary school property but plugged into city utilities. The suit alleged that program violated the U.S. Constitution by allowing religious instruction on school property, even if students weren't required to participate. Court records note that about 97 percent of third- and fourth-graders take part with parental consent.

Magistrate Cosbey held a hearing in mid-January to consider whether the program should be temporarily shut down in its current incarnation. School officials moved to dismiss the suit, but Magistrate Cosbey has denied that request and found the plaintiff would likely succeed on the merits in the case.

In his ruling, the magistrate wrote the question in this case boils down to whether religious instruction to elementary students on public school property during the school day, in a church-owned mobile classroom, violates the Establishment Clause.

Along with a string of caselaw, Magistrate Cosbey cited the "overarching principle" articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court in People of State of Ill. ex rel. McCollum v. Bd. Of Educ. Of Sch. Dist. No. 71, Champaign County, Ill., 333 U.S. 203 (1948), which stated "the use of tax-supported property for religious instruction" and the "utilization of the tax-established and tax-supported public school system to aid religious groups to spread their faith" makes the program unconstitutional.

Magistrate Cosbey wrote that the school district faces minimal harm if the preliminary injunction is granted, while the plaintiff faced irreparable harm with continued violation of her First Amendment rights. Any inconvenience caused to Associated Churches of Huntington County by the preliminary injunction does not outweigh any harm caused by the constitutional violation, he wrote.

The school system has 10 days to file written objections to the magistrate's recommendation, and if that happens the plaintiff would then have an additional 10 days to respond to that. Senior Judge James Moody in the Hammond division will make the final ruling on the case.

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

ADVERTISEMENT