- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 11, 2000

The Supreme Court yesterday announced it would hear the appeal of children in a Christian club who have been forbidden to hold after-school meetings in their local public school.
The case involves important church-state and free-speech issues and is considered particularly important, as are two other cases the court has chosen to settle.
The first of the two involves a dispute over the government's indefinite imprisonment of deported criminal aliens whose countries of origin refuse to accept them. The second deals with the right of U.S. political parties to spend without limit to elect candidates.
And in other action yesterday, the court named Ralph I. Lancaster Jr. of Portland, Maine, to serve as special master in Virginia's suit against Maryland over the right to use Potomac River water. He will gather evidence regarding Virginia's contention that it has the right to extend a drinking water intake pipe halfway across the Potomac. It's a move Maryland contests.
Maryland owns the river up to the low-water mark on Virginia's bank. But Virginia has had the right to use Potomac River water for 133 years.
The Christian youngsters figure in a case called the Good News Club vs. Milford Central School. The Good News Club in Milford, a small, upstate New York town, is one of many such clubs.
In 1996, Milford's club asked permission to hold meetings at the public school, a one-building facility housing kindergarten through high school grades.
School officials let 4-H Clubs, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts meet in the building. But they turned down the Good News Club, saying the meeting would be "the equivalent of religious worship."
The Rev. Stephen D. Fournier, 39, of the Milford Center Community Bible Church runs the club. He accused the school of discriminating and violating the Constitution's First Amendment. He filed suit along with his 10-year-old daughter, a club member, and his wife.
The suit contended officials were confused when distinguishing between banned religious instruction in schools and "discussion of morals from a religious viewpoint," which is permitted.
Nonetheless, a federal trial judge upheld the school's policy. So did the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It threw out the Good News Club's suit.
But that didn't end things because in a similar case, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a Good News Club in Ladue, Mo. The court said Ladue school officials violated the club members' right to free speech when denying them use of school facilities.
Regarding the criminal aliens, the high court must decide if the Immigration and Naturalization Service may continue to jail prisoners who have served their time, have been ordered deported and normally would be whisked from the United States within 90 days of their prison release.
The government argues that when it can't deport the criminals because no country will accept them, it may imprison them as long as they pose a risk of flight or a danger to the community.
In one instance, a U.S. appeals court in California partially disagreed. It ruled it is illegal to hold the aliens for more than "a reasonable time" beyond the 90-day removal period. But in a second and similar case, the New Orleans-based U.S. appeals court sided completely with the government.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments in both cases. A decision is due by the end of June.
And in a dispute with huge ramifications for political campaigning, the high court will examine a ruling of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Colorado.
That court this year decided federal limits on political party campaign spending don't apply when the spending is done in coordination with the candidates and when the party money is separate from the candidates' own campaign funds.
Colorado's Republican Party calls federal limits on such spending an infringement of the First Amendment right to free speech. It wants the limits scrapped everywhere.
In 1996, the Supreme Court ruled that political parties could spend unlimited "hard money" or cash used specifically to influence elections if the parties were not working in consultation with the candidate. However, the court skirted the debate concerning limitations on money spent in consultation with candidates.
The Federal Election Commission and Justice Department now argue that candidates know where "coordinated expenditures" come from, and, once elected, the incumbents might feel obligated to party officials.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide