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LIBERTY CHRISTIAN CTR., INC. v. BOARD OF EDUC. OF

June 8, 1998

LIBERTY CHRISTIAN CENTER, INC., CHARLES T. SAVIDGE, ROXANNE NICHOLSON, and STEPHEN BRYANT, Plaintiffs,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT OF THE CITY OF WATERTOWN, KAY S. VanBROCKLIN, PAUL SIMMONS, DEBORAH A. CAVALLARIO, LINDA S. PARSONS, ELIZABETH S. LOWE, JACQUELYN A. SCHELL, DANIEL J. VILLA in their official capacity as members of the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of WATERTOWN and WARREN E. FARGO, in his official capacity as Superintendent of CITY OF WATERTOWN, City School District, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MCAVOY

MEMORANDUM, DECISION & ORDER

 Plaintiffs Liberty Christian Center ("Liberty"), Charles T. Savidge, Roxanne Nicholson and Stephen Bryant brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging, inter alia, that defendants violated their free speech rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution by denying plaintiffs the use of the Watertown High School Cafeteria (the "cafeteria"). On June 27, 1997, this Court preliminarily enjoined defendants from denying plaintiffs' requested use of the cafeteria during non-school hours. Plaintiffs now move for summary judgment on their free speech and equal protection claims. Defendants cross-move for summary judgment dismissing the Complaint.

 I. BACKGROUND

 A. Facts

 Liberty is a not-for-profit church incorporated under the laws of Delaware and located in Watertown, New York. Its purpose, in part, is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and to facilitate fellowship by its members among themselves and with others. Savidge is the administrator of the Church, Bryant is its pastor, and Nicholson is a Liberty member.

 Defendants are the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of Watertown (the "Board"), its board members, and its Superintendent (collectively, the "School District" or "defendants"). Watertown High School is within the Board's jurisdiction. Pursuant to New York Education Law § 414 *fn1" , the Board adopted Policy No. 1500 - "Community Use of School Facilities," and Policy No. 1500-R - "Public Use of School Facilities Regulation." Pl. Rule 7.1(f) Stat. Exs. A and B. Policy No. 1500 provides that "school facilities may be used by district residents for activities which are educational, cultural, social, recreational or civic in nature, primarily for the benefit of district residents and consistent with all applicable state laws." The policy further provides that "all uses of school buildings and grounds shall be consistent with section 414 of the Education Law." Policy 1500-R lists acceptable and prohibited uses for school facilities, essentially iterating the acceptable and non-acceptable uses provided in Education Law § 414. See supra note 1.

 At issue in this case are a number of prior events held by various organizations with the permission of the Board.

 The Nancy Honeytree Concert

 On August 6, 1993, Faith Fellowship Church ("Faith Fellowship") requested use of the Watertown High School Auditorium (the "Auditorium") on October 21, 1993, for a concert by Nancy Honeytree, a Christian artist. Pl. Rule 7.1(f) Stat. Ex. D. The Board granted the request. The purpose of the concert, according to Faith Fellowship Pastor Tim Grant, was to "preach the gospel," or "let the gospel be known." Pl. Rule 7.1(f) Stat. Ex. E at 70 (Deposition of Tim Grant) (hereinafter "Grant Dep."). The concert featured songs containing Bible passages, and people recited passages of scripture. Id. at 69-70. Moreover, Honeytree herself "shared a testimony" during the concert, by which she related to the audience how God came into and changed her life. Id. at 71. Those present at the concert were encouraged to change their lives by "receiving Jesus" and Grant asserts that "presenting the gospel" was the central feature of the concert. Id. at 71-72.

 In granting Faith Fellowship permission to use the Auditorium for the concert, defendants did not ask Grant whether prayer, Bible-recitation, or presentation of the gospel would occur. Grant Dep. at 65-66. The concert was advertised as that of a "Christian recording artist." Id. at 66. Faith Fellowship charged an admission fee of $ 6.00. Pl. Rule 7.1(f) Stat. Ex. D.

 "Local Talent Night"

 In June of 1994, Faith Fellowship requested permission for use of the Auditorium on September 23, 1994 for "Local Talent Night," specifically "Christian Music." Pl. Rule 7.1(f) Stat. Ex. F. Defendants approved the request. The event was advertised locally as a "Night of Christian Worship," and advertisements were sent to eighty churches in the Watertown area. Pl. Rule 7.1(f) Stat. Ex. G P 13 (Grant Affidavit). That night, the performers and audience members sang praise and worship songs, Grant said two or three prayers, and Bible passages were recited. Grant Dep. at 81-85. Individuals were invited to accept Jesus Christ as their "Lord and Saviour." Id. at 86. Faith Fellowship took up a collection at the event and raised between $ 150 and $ 200. Id. at 82.

 Defendant Warren E. Fargo testified that in retrospect, the "Local Talent Night" event appears to have been a worship service. Pl. Rule 7.1(f) Stat. Ex. C at 36 (Deposition of Warren E. Fargo) (hereinafter "Fargo Dep."). Approximately two weeks later, the audio-visual technician who worked the event told Fargo in a "passing comment" that the event was "a little different than what was presented in the other concerts." Id. at 39.

 The Bruce Carroll Concert

 In April of 1995, Faith Fellowship used the Auditorium, with defendants' permission, to host and sponsor another music concert involving Christian artist and musician Bruce Carroll. During the concert, Carroll quoted and discussed the meaning of certain Bible passages, gave testimony and sang songs with religious themes. Grant Dep. at 57.

 The Mars Hill Concert

 On November 2, 1996, the Mars Hill Broadcasting Company, Inc. ("Mars Hill") used defendants' facilities at the Case Junior High School in Watertown, with defendants' permission, for a Gospel concert featuring performers Steve and Annie Chapman. See Pl. Rule 7.1(f) Stat. Ex. I. At the concert, the Chapmans sang songs featuring Bible verses and introduced songs by quoting from the Bible. Id. Ex. L at 36-37 (Deposition of Steve Chapman) (hereinafter "Chapman Dep."). Mars Hill charged an admission fee of $ 6 for the event and realized a gain of approximately $ 1,777.

 Plaintiffs' Requests

 On July 8, 1996, on behalf of Liberty, Nicholson, Savidge and Bryant requested permission to use the Watertown High School Cafeteria. The dates requested were August 3, 17, and 31, 1996; September 14 and 28, 1996; October 5 and 19, 1996; November 2, 16 and 30, 1996; and Dec. 14 and 28, 1996. Pl. Rule 7.1(f) Stat. Ex. Q P 9 (Savage Affidavit). The stated purpose of the use was "worship service." Specifically, the worship services would include activities of prayer, music, religious services, religious instruction and Christian testimony. Id. P 12. On July 16, 1996, the Board refused the request, citing Education Law § 414, and noting that the definition of permissible uses therein "does not include the use of public school buildings by religious organizations." Pl. Rule 7.1(f) Stat. Ex. R. The Board thus believed that it had no statutory authority under section 414 to grant permission to any religious organization for the use of school facilities. Id.

 On December 13, 1996, Pastor Bryant submitted to the Board a second request, on behalf of Liberty, for use of the Watertown High School Cafeteria. The stated purpose was "educational, family and Christian worship." The dates requested were Jan. 4, 5, 12, 19 and 26, 1997. Pl. Rule 7.1(f) Stat. Ex. P PP 9, 12 (Bryant Affidavit). On December 16, 1996, the Board refused the request, in a letter identical to that of the previous denial. Pl. Rule 7.1(f) Stat. Ex. S.

 B. Procedural History

 Plaintiffs filed their Complaint on April 28, 1997. The Complaint contains claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of: (1) plaintiffs' free speech rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments; (2) plaintiffs' free association rights; (3) the First Amendment's Establishment Clause; (4) plaintiffs' free exercise rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments; (5) plaintiffs' equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment; (6) plaintiffs' due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment; and (7) the Religious Freedom ...


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