General Rule: During school hours, outside religious organizations and clubs must not meet
at public schools. After school hours, such groups may meet at a public school only if the
school permits other outside clubs and organizations to meet at the same time and does not
endorse the club's religious activity. 69
May religious clubs meet in public schools?
During school hours: An outside religious organization or club must not meet at public
After school hours: An outside religious organization or club may meet at a public school
under the following circumstances:
- The group may meet only if the school allows other outside organizations or clubs to
meet at the same time.
- The school must assume the duty of ensuring that it does not appear to be endorsing
or disapproving of religion.
- The school district must proactively work to prevent even the perception that it may
be endorsing the club's religious activity. In Good News Club v. Milford Central School,
533 U. S. 98 (2001), the U. S. Supreme Court found no perceived endorsement of a religious
club's activities because the club meetings were not held in elementary school
classrooms, the instructors were not school teachers, the students ranged in age, and
the children who attended the club had obtained signed permission slips from their
- The school may not allow the club or organization to solicit students, unless it allows
all groups to do so. If the school allows such solicitation, it must make sure that no
proselytizing or religious message is part of the communication.
- A school district must take extra care to make sure that students from minority religions
are not teased or made to feel unwelcome or left out merely because they
choose not to attend a religious club meeting.
May a teacher serve as an instructor in a religious club that meets at the school where the
teacher works? In Wigg v. Sioux Falls School District, 70 the U. S. Court of Appeals for the
Eighth Circuit recently found that an elementary school teacher could participate in a religious
club meeting where she teaches. However, the decision is inconsistent with the U. S.
Supreme Court's decision in Good News Club v. Milford Central School because it omitted discussion
of the Supreme Court's finding that no perceived endorsement of religion occurred
by allowing a religious club on campus because "... instructors [were] not school teachers." 71
Until the U. S. Supreme Court definitively answers this question, ADL strongly recommends
that teachers not participate in religious clubs meeting in schools where they work.
Outside Religious Club Seeks to Lease Elementary School Space on Days When
Other Outside Clubs Are Not Permitted to Lease Space
An elementary school has a policy of not letting any outside organizations rent space on
campus during the week. However, the school does rent space to a soccer league to
practice on Saturdays and to a homeowners group on Sundays. A local religious group
has applied for permission to meet on campus on Wednesday afternoons.
Does the school have to allow the group to meet?
No. The school district does not allow other groups to meet at that time, so it is not required to
allow this club to meet. However, the school district may have to allow the religious club to meet
on the weekends, because that is when it allows the other clubs to meet.
Outside Religious Club Seeks to Meet at High School That Permits Non-Curriculum
Related Student Clubs to Meet Before and After School
A high school allows student-organized, student-led non-curriculum related clubs to
meet before and after the school day, but does not allow other groups to use the school.
A local religious organization wants to meet on campus after school. While students will
attend the club, the club will be run by a local religious leader.
Must the school allow this club to meet?
No. Since the school does not allow outside groups, it is not required to allow this one. However,
since it allows student-organized, student-led non-curriculum related clubs to meet, it would
have to allow a student-organized, student-led religious group to meet.
Outside Religious Club Seeks to Meet at Elementary School at the Same Time Other
Outside Clubs Meet
Several groups currently use an elementary school campus immediately after the school
day, including a computer club, a karate class, and a Cub Scouts chapter. A religious
group wants to begin meeting on campus every Tuesday at the same time.
Does the school have to allow the religious club to meet?
Yes. So long as the district has opened its doors to outside organizations (such as the Cub Scouts),
the school must allow the religious club in its facilities. However, the school must proactively
ensure that it does not endorse or disapprove of the activity. The school district should take extra
care to make certain that students from minority religions are not teased or made to feel unwelcome
or left out merely because they do not attend the meetings.
Leader of Outside Religious Club Seeks to Solicit Students to Club Meetings at a
School Assembly and Through Permission Slips
A religious club wants to meet in an elementary school. The club's leader, a minister,
would like to make a brief announcement at an assembly concerning the club and would
like the school to include a permission slip in its regular "Tuesday Folder," a weekly
communication with parents.
What should the school do?
The minister may make the announcement only if (a) other after-school organizations' leaders are
permitted to do so, (b) her message contains no religious or proselytizing themes and (c) the
school takes steps to ensure that it is not endorsing the minister's message. To ensure that the
school is not endorsing the minister's message, it may wish to make an explicit statement to that
effect and it may wish to have the minister speak only when other groups are making their
announcements. The school can also require permission slips from parents. However, if the
school distributes or collects permission slips, it must be careful not to involve itself in, or endorse
the religious activities of, the club.
Permissible Limitations on Notice Posting Policy for After-School Non-Curriculum
A school allows the posting of notices inviting students to attend after-school meetings
of non-curriculum related organizations and clubs.
What limits may the school place on the posting of such notices?
The school can require that a staff-person review and approve all notices before they are posted,
and the school may limit the time, place and manner for distribution of the notices. For example,
the school may require that notices be posted only within a particular display case or on a specific
wall, and require that each notice bear a stamp indicating it has been approved for posting. To
ensure that it is not endorsing the religious message of the poster, schools may use a disclaimer
on the notice or at the location where all notices are posted. School teachers should not be directly,
personally involved in the distribution of fliers, and outsiders may never distribute such invitations
on school property during school hours.