Jesus stays after school

Charging a religious youth group to use school rooms didn’t quite bring on the wrath of God, but it did result in a lawsuit against the Chico Unified School District.

The Child Evangelical Fellowship, which includes a Chico chapter, alleged that the CUSD discriminated against the CEF and violated its constitutional rights when it charged a “Good News Club” as if it were solely a religious organization, rather than offering the free usage enjoyed by secular youth groups such as scouting.

The CUSD made the problem go away by agreeing to change its procedures to allow religious youth groups to use its facilities for free. Trustees also signed what amounts to an acknowledgment that the district was wrong. The CEF had originally asked for about $13,000 in legal fees but agreed to settle for reimbursement of the room rental costs it had already paid.

CUSD Attorney Greg Einhorn said it had been the CUSD’s practice to charge nonprofits, such as churches, colleges and service organizations, the direct costs of using school property: mainly custodians’ time to let them in and out and clean up afterward. For-profits are charged straight rental fees.

Einhorn said a case could be made for either side, and he advised the district it wasn’t worth it to take the argument to court. “It’s just not a fight that the district, frankly, can afford,” he said.

The district went so far as to rewrite a portion of Administrative Procedure 1330.1 to specifically reference Good News Clubs.