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SARATOGA BIBLE TRAINING INST., INC. v. SCHUYLERVIL

May 5, 1998

SARATOGA BIBLE TRAINING INSTITUTE, INC. d/b/a NEW COVENANT COMMUNITY CHURCH, Plaintiff, against SCHUYLERVILLE CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: KAHN

MEMORANDUM-DECISION & ORDER

 Introduction

 On April 3, 1998, plaintiff, Saratoga Bible Training Institute, Inc. d/b/a New Covenant Community Church ("NCC"), commenced the instant action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 seeking permanent injunctive relief that would require the defendant Schuylerville Central School District ("District") to grant plaintiff access to its high school auditorium on May 10 and 11, 1998, or any day thereafter, for the purpose of holding an "Answers In Genesis" ("AIG") seminar. Presently, plaintiff seeks a preliminary injunction granting the same relief. The Court entertained the oral arguments of the parties on April 17, 1998 and reserved decision. *fn1"

 Background

 NCC is a religious organization whose church is located in Easton, New York. AIG is a not-for-profit Christian ministry headquartered in the Cincinnati area. As its name suggests, AIG sponsors seminars addressing the origin of man from a biblical viewpoint.

 During September 1997, Robert Carr, a member of NCC, learned that Dr. Carl Weiland, a Christian speaker from Australia associated with AIG, would soon be on a lecture tour in the United States. Dr. Weiland would be available to speak in the Schuylerville area during May 10-11, 1998. Robert Carr then contacted AIG and it was agreed that NCC would sponsor Dr. Weiland's visit to the area. NCC expects that some 400 persons would attend Dr. Weiland's presentation. According to NCC, if Dr. Weiland cannot lecture on May 10 and 11, 1998 he will be unable to again visit the region for some 18 months.

 Seeking a forum for Dr. Weiland's lecture, Mr. Carr filed an application dated October 27, 1997 with the District to request the use of the Schuylerville High School auditorium on May 10-11, 1998. Attached to the application was an addendum which described Dr. Weiland's presentation. This addendum stated that Dr. Weiland's "lectures focus on the controversial subject of our origins . . . he is taking a biblical viewpoint . . . . what makes this man especially worth listening to is that he embraces a thorough scientific approach to the whole subject, which makes for quite an eye opening and thought provoking presentation." Reed Aff. Ex. C.

 In early December 1997, Dr. Leon Reed, Superintendent of the Schuylerville Central School District, telephoned Mr. Carr and advised him that NCC's request to use the high school auditorium was denied. Mr. Carr and Dr. Reed later met on December 2, 1997 and discussed the reasons behind the denial. Although some of what was said at the meeting remains in dispute, certain relevant points of that conversation are undisputed. Dr. Reed stated that the School District's facilities were only allowed to be used for education, athletic activities, or live plays. Dr. Reed also stated that the District's policy did not permit outside groups to use the high school auditorium for lectures, speeches, rallies, debates or similar activities.

 Subsequently, the Schuylerville Central School Board of Education (the "School Board") reviewed Dr. Reed's decision to deny NCC's application to use the high school auditorium. By letter dated January 9, 1998 the School Board confirmed Dr. Reed's decision. That letter stated in part:

 
The Board of Education has decided to confirm Dr. Reed's decision. The Board of Education's decision to deny your application is based upon the same reasons as the initial denial. These reasons include the fact that the District has not opened the High School Auditorium to indiscriminate use by outsiders, thereby creating an "open forum". The District has consistently limited access to the High School Auditorium to use for dramatic presentations by local community groups. The District has consistently refused to permit the school's auditorium to be used for lectures and presentations. For example, the League of Women Voters, political candidates and a telecommunications company have been denied the use of the auditorium. The Board of Education has no knowledge of the District ever permitting an outside group to use the auditorium to present any lectures, presentations or any other forums, regardless of the viewpoint of the presentation since the implementation of the building use policy in 1991.

 Carr Decl. Ex. C.

 The "policy" referred to in the School Board's January 9, 1998 letter had been in place since 1991. It set forth rules and procedures to be followed by any group seeking to use District facilities. This policy also enunciated the District's position on the subject of community use of District facilities. On this point the policy stated:

 
It is the intent and the policy of the Board to encourage the beneficial use of school buildings for community wide activities. This is meant to include those uses enumerated under Section 414 of the NYS Education Law. Individuals or organizations wishing to use the school facilities in accordance with Section 414 of this policy must secure written permission from the Superintendent and abide by the rules and regulations established for such use.

 Carr Decl. Ex. D. The policy further defined the permitted use of the high school auditorium as follows:

 
The principal is authorized to grant groups one evening's permission to use the auditorium for community projects, provided that no admission is charged, that the meeting is open to the public, and that the use ...

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