- The Washington Times - Monday, July 2, 2001

MISSION VIEJO, Calif. — A school district in this Orange County suburb of Los Angeles is the first in the nation to withdraw official sponsorship of all student clubs not directly related to curriculum.
The Saddleback Unified School District, which includes four large high schools, took the action last week in response to a June 11 U.S. Supreme Court decision affirming the right of religious groups to meet at public schools open to other organizations and a similar ruling in March from the California Court of Appeals.
The district now will ban Christian clubs and others like the Kiwanis-linked Key Club, the Girls League, the Safe Rides Club and the Chess Club from meeting during school hours and will stop providing them with official faculty sponsors.
"We had felt clubs like the Girls League and Interaction **sponsored by Rotary International** were related to curriculum because we have a community service requirement at our schools," said Superintendent William Manahan. "The Court of Appeals said they are not really based on curriculum. That ruling, together with the Supreme Court's, means that if we let them meet during school hours, we also have to let Christian clubs and just about anyone else meet then, too."
Mr. Manahan said a fully open policy could force the district to recognize a homosexual and lesbian club or any other that stops short of openly advocating crimes or treason, and the district has never wanted such an open-door policy.
"We've had a closed-forum policy since 1982," he said. "This just makes it a little stricter." He said the French and Spanish clubs, the Math Club and others of their type will continue to meet as before, usually in classrooms and with faculty sponsors.
The Fellowship of Christian Athletes — which spurred the state court ruling — and the service clubs also can keep meeting on campus, but must pay nominal rent and meet after school. "Their status is just like the Boy Scouts or anyone else who wants to rent our facilities," Mr. Manahan said. "If they meet in a classroom which is going to be cleaned anyway and we already have a custodian on duty, the rent will usually be less than $10 per meeting."
The Saddleback district's withdrawal of official recognition from service clubs was the first action by any school district responding either to the Supreme Court decision or the almost identical California appellate ruling.
Educators speculate such bans of meetings during school hours likely will become common across the country in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, which held that schools in the small, predominantly Orthodox Jewish Milford Central district in New York state must allow all religious groups to meet at public schools that are open to other non-curricular organizations.
"This case opens it all up, if schools recognize any club not directly related to what's taught in the classrooms," said Roger Diamond, a constitutional lawyer in Los Angeles. "Schools that want to avoid appearing to sanction gay and lesbian clubs, affiliates of the National Rifle Association or any other controversial group will now have to ban them from meeting during school hours."
Judy Seltz, an official of the American Association of School Administrators, observed that the court ruling will prevent school districts "from being as sensitive to local community preferences as they used to be. It's going to be everything or nothing from now on."

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