In their motion for summary judgment, Plaintiffs' contend that Mrs. Safford is both, 1) a school employee when she leads the Gospel Choir (in order to avoid the Act's proscription on involvement by non-school persons), Plaintiffs' Memorandum, at 31-32, and 2) not a school employee when she leads the Gospel Choir (in order to avoid the Act's proscription on involvement by school employees). Plaintiffs' Memorandum, at 32-33. Mrs. Safford cannot be both a school employee and a nonschool employee whenever it is convenient to Plaintiffs' position: she is either one or the other, and either way the act prohibits her involvement with the Gospel Choir.
As a matter of law, Plaintiffs' are incorrect in their interpretation that since Mrs. Safford's duties do not include supervisory, didactic, or authoritative duties over students, the Equal Access Act's ban on involvement by school officials does not apply. Plaintiffs' base their reasoning on a belief that the purpose of the act's prohibition of participation by a school employee in student religious activities is to prevent school students from feeling coerced into participating in religious activities due to the participation of an authority figure such as a teacher. Although this is certainly a purpose of the Act's proscription on employee participation in student religious meetings, the express language of the statute and the legislative history clearly supports an interpretation that any school employee, notwithstanding her duties, is prohibited from participating in these types of religious activities.
Plaintiffs' suggestion that Mrs. Safford ceases to be a school employee within the meaning of the Act because her role as leader of the Gospel Choir is assumed after school hours, and is outside the scope of her employment as a school secretary, defies logic and flies in the face of the manifest purpose of the Equal Access Act. If an employee ceases to be an employee under the statute during non-instructional time, then there would be no purpose for the provisions set forth in § 4071(c) of the Act. Clearly, a school employee's participation in, or sponsorship of, a public school gospel choir during school hours would be a violation of the Establishment Clause. Cf. School District of Abington Township v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 10 L. Ed. 2d 844, 83 S. Ct. 1560 (1962) (organized teacher-led Bible readings during classroom hours held to violate Establishment Clause).
Although the Equal Access Act does not define the term "employee", the definition which Plaintiffs urge the Court to accept, is not supported by the express language in the remainder of the Act; therefore, the term will be given its everyday meaning. Since the Equal Access Act clearly prohibits school employee participation and leadership in "extracurricular" student religious activities or organizations, it seems implicit that the legislators recognized that school employees remained as such during non-instructional or "extracurricular" hours. Plaintiffs' complaint also alleges a § 1983 claim on the basis that the School District violated the Gospel Choir members' rights to freedom of speech and association guaranteed by the First Amendment. Plaintiffs presented no evidence, however, which would permit a reasonable jury to find in their favor.
Accordingly, I conclude that Plaintiffs' present conduct causes the School District to violate the Equal Access Act, thus the School District's policies are measures intended merely to bring the Plaintiffs actions in accord with the Act.
Plaintiffs' Civil Rights Claims
Plaintiffs have requested that this Court declare the School District's actions with regard to the Gospel Choir to be in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. Plaintiffs contend that the School District discriminated against the Gospel Choir on the basis of the race of the majority of its members.
Plaintiffs have offered no evidence to substantiate these claims. Moreover, the Court finds nothing in the record which would support such a claim. An identical complaint was filed with the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, alleging the same equal protection violations against the Gospel Choir by the School District, and presenting the same facts presented to the Court in this case. The Office for Civil Rights determined that no discrimination had occurred. There being no evidence before me which suggests the contrary, I find that Plaintiffs have failed to meet their burden of showing an Equal Protection Violation on the part of the School District. Accordingly, summary judgment must be granted in favor of Defendant.
Plaintiffs' Request for Equitable Relief
Plaintiffs' have sued in equity requesting a temporary restraining order, preliminary and permanent injunctive relief. For the reasons discussed above, Plaintiffs' requests for injunctive relief must be denied, since the School District's actions, which Plaintiffs request to enjoin, were not in violation of any of the Gospel Choir members' constitutional rights, but were taken only to ensure compliance with the Equal Access Act. Moreover, it is well settled that in order to maintain a cause of action for injunctive relief, there must be a real threat of a future violation of one's legal rights, or a contemporary violation of a nature likely to continue to recur. U.S. v. Oregon State Medical Soc'y, 343 U.S. 326, 333, 96 L. Ed. 978, 72 S. Ct. 690 (1952). The School District, by complying with the Equal Access Act, is not violating any of the Gospel Choir members' legal rights, nor does it pose a threat of future violation.
The Equal Access Act is intended to enable all student groups to have equal access to secondary school premises, without regard to the subject of their activities, but that access is not unconditional. Rather, in opening the school doors to religious groups, the Act strikes the necessary balance between the Free Speech Clause and the Establishment Clause by strictly forbidding any element of school sponsorship.
The undisputed facts in this case demonstrate that the School District's actions were attempts to comply with the Equal Access Act. In fact, the School District is receptive to the Gospel Choir continuing to have access to Central High facilities provided that its purpose and conduct are in accord with the Equal Access Act. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment at 43.
Contrary to Plaintiffs' assertion, it is not unconstitutional for the School District to condition access to Central High on compliance with the Equal Access Act. See generally Mergens, 496 U.S. 226, 110 L. Ed. 2d 191, 110 S. Ct. 2356 .
As stated above, the material facts in this case are undisputed. Plaintiffs have offered no evidence that would support a finding contrary to Defendant's assertion that its actions with regard to the Gospel Choir were meant only to bring the Gospel Choir's conduct within the requirements of the Equal Access Act.
The Equal Access act, as approved by the Supreme Court in Mergens, is clear and unambiguous. No school employee may be present at religious meetings in a participatory capacity.
20 U.S.C. § 4071 (c)(3). Additionally, no non-school persons may regularly attend religious meetings with students on the school premises. 20 U.S.C. § 4071(c)(5). If the Gospel Choir wishes to continue its activities without change, then they may do so away from Central High facilities; however, if the Gospel Choir wishes to continue its activities while continuing to have access to Central High facilities, then it must do so in accord with the Equal Access Act, which requires School District compliance.
An appropriate order and judgment follow.