Lamb's Chapel and John Steigerwald v. Center Moriches Union Free School
Decided on June 7, 1993; 508 US 384


I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed: 1st Amendment (religion)

B. Legal Question Presented:

Is it a violation of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to deny a church access to school premises because it wants to display a religiously oriented film series dealing with family and child-rearing issues?

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

New York state law allowed school boards to adopt reasonable regulations permitting the after hours use of school property for 10 specified purposes, not including meetings for religious purposes. The school board of Center Moriches Union Free School (respondent) issued its regulations, pursuant to state law, allowing for social, civic and recreational use of the school, but not religious use. Lamb's Chapel (petitioner) is an evangelical church that wanted to use the school as a location to show a series of religious-oriented films on child-rearing and family values.  The school board denied the church's petition twice, on the grounds that the films were religious in nature.  The church brought suit in District Court claiming that the school's refusal violated the First Amendment Free Speech Clause and was therefore unconstitutional.  The District Court granted summary judgment for the school district.  The Court of Appeals affirmed, reasoning that the school property was a nonpublic forum, which allowed the school district to exclude specific uses of the school property as long as the exclusion was reasonable and viewpoint neutral, which it found this exclusion to be.  The church appealed and the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Jay Alan Kekulow argued the cause for Petitioner.  With him on the brief were Keith A. Fournier, Mark N. Troobnick, James M. Henderson, Sr., and Jordan W. Lorence for the American Center for Law and Justice. John W. Hoefling argued the cause for Respondants.  With him on the brief was Ross Paine Masler.
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the United States by Solicitor General Starr, Assistant Attorney General Gerson, Deputy Solicitor General Roberts, Edward C. DuMont, Anthony J. Steinmeyer, and Lowell V. Sturgill, Jr.; for the American Civil Liberties Union et al. by David H. Remes, T. Jeremy Gunn, Steven R. Shapiro, John A. Powell, and Elliot M. Mincberg; for the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations by Robert M. Weinberg, Laurence Gold, and Walter A. Kamiat; for the Christian Legal Society et al. by Kimberlee Wood Colby, Steven T. McFarland, Bradley P. Jacob, and Karon Owen Bowdre; for Concerned Women for America et al. by Wendell R. Bird and David J. Myers; for the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs by Nathan Lewin and Dennis Rapps; and for the Rutherford Institute by James J. Knicely and John W. Whitehead.
Jay Worona, Pilar Sokol, and Louis Grument filed a brief for the New York State School Boards Association et al. as amicus curiae urging affirmance.

IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"That Rule 7 treats all religions and religious purposes alike does not make its application in this case viewpoint neutral, however, for it discriminates on the basis of viewpoint by permitting school property to be used for the presentation of all views about family issues and child rearing except those dealing with the subject from a religious standpoint.  Denial on this basis is plainly invalid... the government violates the First Amendment when it denies access to a speaker solely to suppress the point of view he espouses on an otherwise includible subject.

The film series involved here no doubt dealt with a subject otherwise permissible under Rule 10, and its exhibition was denied solely because the series dealt with the subject from a religious standpoint.  The principle that has emerged from our cases is that the First Amendment forbids the government to regulate speech in ways that favor some viewpoints or ideas at the expense of others.

Held:  The judgments are reversed."

Justice Vote: 9 Pro vs. 0 Con

  • White, B.  Pro  (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W.  Pro  (Joined in majority opinion)
  • Blackmun, H.  Pro  (Joined in majority opinion)
  • Stevens, J. Pro  (Joined in majority opinion)
  • O'Connor, S.  Pro  (Joined in majority opinion)
  • Souter, D.  Pro  (Joined in majority opinion)
  • Kennedy,  A.  Pro  (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Scalia,  A.  Pro  (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Thomas, C.  Pro  (Joined Scalia's concurring opinion)
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU filed as amicus urging reversal; the US Supreme Court reversed the ruling of the lower court in a 9-0 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.