Harrisburg, Pennsylvania — An evangelistic organization has filed suit against a Pennsylvania school district for charging the group thousands in rent while allowing other non-profit entities to use school space for free.
Child Evangelism Fellowship of Dauphin County operates Good News Clubs after school for elementary school-aged children throughout the Harrisburg area, providing Bible lessons, songs and games that teach kids morals and virtues. The organization says that it has been allowed to host the clubs for free for six years — until now.
According to district policy, “non-profit community service groups” such as the Boys and Girls Club of Harrisburg are permitted to use school facilities at no charge. However, Child Evangelism Fellowship states that the Harrisburg School District has suddenly refused to acknowledge their organization as a non-profit group, and insists that the group pay rent. The fees would amount to thousands of dollars in expenses that the organization does not have within its budget.
Child Evangelism Fellowship of Dauphin County says that the lawsuit filed on Friday was a last resort as the organization attempted to work the matter out with the Harrisburg School District — to no avail.
“We have no animosity towards the District,” said director Brooke Morrison. “We only want to get back into the district to serve the children in the district. We’re glad for the relationship we’ve had in the past, and just felt this was necessary because we weren’t getting anywhere with our request.”
Morrison and her attorneys at the Independence Law Center in Lancaster believe that because other groups are not being charged, Child Evangelism Fellowship must be treated fairly and equally.
“Our desire is to get CEF back into the schools as soon as possible,” said Randall Wenger, chief counsel of the Independence Law Center, who is representing the organization along with attorneys Josh Bodene and Jeremy Samek. “The Constitution guarantees that groups like CEF should not be singled out for disfavorable treatment. If non-profit groups that serve the community don’t have to pay, CEF shouldn’t have to pay simply because it is religious—or for any other reason.”
In filing a complaint in federal court, Wegner is seeking a preliminary injunction on behalf of Child Evangelism Fellowhip, so that the Good News Clubs can utilize school space again this semester. The Law Center believes that the fees imposed on the organization are causing it to be “forced out” of the district for the entire 2013 school year.
Child Evangelism Fellowship, founded in 1937, is headquartered in Warrenton, Missouri, west of St. Louis, and offers several Bible-based clubs for children across America. According the ministry website, the clubs are “fast-paced, one-hour programs [that] are designed to bring the Gospel of Christ to children on their level in their environment.”
The Independence Law Center is representing Child Evangelism Fellowship of Dauphin County free of charge.
School officials were not available for comment at press time.