Liberty Counsel
NEWS RELEASE

Contact: PUBLIC RELATIONS DEPARTMENT - 800-671-1776

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 3, 2004

Federal Appeals Court Rules That Public School Teacher May Participate In A Christian After-School Good News Club For Elementary Students

First ruling of its kind in the nation!

Minneapolis, MN – Today, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Barbara Wigg, a public school teacher in Sioux Falls, SD, may participate in a Christian after-school Good News Club for elementary students. This ruling is the first of its kind in the country. Mathew D. Staver, President and General Counsel of Liberty Counsel, represents, Barbara Wigg.

Good News Clubs are sponsored by Child Evangelism Fellowship. These meetings are for elementary students who attend with parental permission. Children who attend the club meetings sing Christian songs, read the Bible, memorize Scripture, and learn about morals and character development. The Sioux Falls School District policy allowed both religious and secular groups to use school facilities for after-school meetings. Mrs. Wigg, who teaches at Anderson Elementary School, has participated in many after-school secular meetings, including Girl Scouts. Mrs. Wigg has been an outstanding teacher for many years and loves to teach children. However, the District prohibited her from participating in the Good News Club. The District argued that allowing a public school teacher to participate in a religious club and teach Christian viewpoints to elementary students after school would violate the Establishment Clause.

Liberty Counsel filed suit on behalf of Mrs. Wigg. On July 3, 2003, a Sioux Falls lower federal court ruled that the District could not ban teachers like Mrs. Wigg from participating in the Club at a school other than where she taught during the day, but the District could prohibit such participation in the school where she teaches during the day. The lower court reasoned that students and parents who know Mrs. Wigg would not understand that she changed hats from being a teacher to a private citizen, and thus might conclude that the school endorsed religion. However, the Court of Appeals disagreed, and ruled that Mrs. Wigg has the right to teach and participate in the Good News Club immediately after school on the same campus where she teaches during the day, as well as on any other campus in the District.

The Court of Appeals ruled that the District’s policy banning teachers from participating in religious club meetings designed for elementary students immediately after school is “viewpoint discriminatory and, thus, per se unconstitutional.” The Court ruled that Mrs. Wigg’s “participation in the after-school Club constitutes private speech … [and that her] private speech does not put the [District] at risk of violating the Establishment Clause.” This ruling is the first of its kind in the nation.

According to Staver, “Barbara Wigg cried for joy when I informed her of this great victory. Many public school teachers across America have been waiting with anticipation for this decision. Public school teachers and employees have the same right to participate in Christian clubs for students or adults immediately after school just like those who participate in secular clubs. Teachers who desire to take off their official teaching hat and put on a private one, step down the hall after the last bell, and participate in religious clubs have been finally liberated by this Court’s decision. When the state accommodates private religious speech in public venues, it is acting consistent with the best of our constitutional guarantees.”

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News Reports on this Case:

Sept. 4, 2004 Argus Leader: "Teacher may lead Bible study"