BOARD OF EDUCATION OF WESTSIDE COMMUNITY SCHOOLS v. MERGENS

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
88-1597
Petitioner 
BOE of Westside Community Schools
Respondent 
Mergens
Advocates
(Argued the cause for the United States)
(Argued the cause for the private respondents)
(Argued the cause for the petitioners)
Tags
Term:
Facts of the Case 

The school administration at Westside High School denied permission to a group of students to form a Christian club with the same privileges and meeting terms as other Westside after-school student clubs. In addition to citing the Establishment Clause, Westside refused the club's formation because it lacked a faculty sponsor. When the school board upheld the administration's denial, Mergens and several other students sued. The students alleged that Westside's refusal violated the Equal Access Act, which requiremes that schools in receipt of federal funds provide "equal access" to student groups seeking to express "religious, political, philosophical, or other content" messages. On appeal from an adverse District Court ruling, the Court of Appeals found in favor of the students. The Supreme Court granted Westside certiorari.

Question 

Was Westside's prohibition against the formation of a Christian club consistent with the Establishment Clause, thereby rendering the Equal Access Act unconstitutional?

Conclusion 
Decision: 8 votes for Mergens, 1 vote(s) against
Legal provision: 20 U.S.C. 4071

No. In distinguishing between "curriculum" and "noncurriculum student groups," the Court held that since Westside permitted other noncurricular clubs, it was prohibited under the Equal Access Act from denying equal access to any after- school club based on the content of its speech. The proposed Christian club would be a noncurriculum group since no other course required students to become its members, its subject matter would not actually be taught in classes, it did not concern the school's cumulative body of courses, and its members would not receive academic credit for their participation. The Court added that the Equal Access Act was constitutional because it served an overriding secular purpose by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of philosophical, political, or other types of speech. As such, the Act protected the Christian club's formation even if its members engaged in religious discussions.

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BOARD OF EDUCATION OF WESTSIDE COMMUNITY SCHOOLS v. MERGENS. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 24 June 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1989/1989_88_1597/>.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF WESTSIDE COMMUNITY SCHOOLS v. MERGENS, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1989/1989_88_1597/ (last visited June 24, 2014).
"BOARD OF EDUCATION OF WESTSIDE COMMUNITY SCHOOLS v. MERGENS," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed June 24, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1989/1989_88_1597/.