Westside Community Board of Education v. Mergens

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Westside Community Board of Education v. Mergens
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued January 9, 1990
Decided June 4, 1990
Full case name Board of Education of the Westside Community Schools, etc., et al., Petitioners v. Bridget C. Mergens, by and through her next friend, Daniel N. Mergens, et al.
Citations 496 U.S. 226 (more)
110 S. Ct. 2356; 110 L. Ed. 2d 191; 1990 U.S. LEXIS 2880; 58 U.S.L.W. 4720
Prior history On writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
Holding
School districts may not prohibit Bible study groups from meeting on school premises if they allow other groups to meet on school premises.
Court membership
Chief Justice
William Rehnquist
Associate Justices
William J. Brennan, Jr. · Byron White
Thurgood Marshall · Harry Blackmun
John P. Stevens · Sandra Day O'Connor
Antonin Scalia · Anthony Kennedy
Case opinions
Majority O'Connor (parts I, II-A, II-B, II-C), joined by Rehnquist, White, Blackmun, Scalia, Kennedy
Plurality O'Connor (part III), joined by Rehnquist, White, Blackmun
Concurrence Kennedy, joined by Scalia
Concurrence Marshall, joined by Brennan
Dissent Stevens
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. I; Equal Access Act

Westside Community Board of Education v. Mergens, 496 U.S. 226 (1990), was a United States Supreme Court case involving a school district's ability to hold classes on Bible study after school.

Background[edit]

Westside High School, in District 66, located in Omaha, Nebraska, refused to let a group of students wishing to form a Christian Bible Study Club within their school. Bridget Mergens is the name of the student who initiated the process to start the club. She was a senior at the time. It was decided that the club could not take place because they would not allow a staff member to sponsor it (staff sponsoring was required or the club meetings could not take place at the school). The students argued that the district's decision was in violation of the federal Equal Access Act requiring that groups seeking to express messages containing “religious, political, philosophical, or other content” not be denied the ability to form clubs.

Opinion of the Court[edit]

In an 8-1 decision,[1] the Court held that the club could hold their meetings, but that their sponsor could not be paid, as this would constitute an endorsement of religion prohibited by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The school's situation was placed under the Equal Access Act because it allowed other ‘limited open forums’. In Part III of Justice O'Connor's opinion, which did not reach a majority of the Court, she applied the Lemon Test to find that the Equal Access Act is constitutional as applied in this case. Justice Kennedy, meanwhile, analyzed the application of the Act under different Court precedents, focusing more upon "coercion".

Dissent[edit]

Justice Stevens, in a dissenting opinion, would have avoided the Establishment Clause issue and permitted the decision of the Westside Board of Education on the grounds that it did not violate the Equal Access Act.

See also[edit]

References[edit]