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64 Alb. L. Rev. 225 (2000-2001)
Religious Clubs in the Public Schools: What Happened after Mergens

handle is hein.journals/albany64 and id is 237 raw text is: RELIGIOUS CLUBS IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS: WHAT
Dena S. Davis*
The Equal Access Act,' upheld by the Supreme Court in Board of
Education v. Mergens,2 requires public secondary schools to allow
access to religiously based student groups on the same basis as
other student clubs.' Mergens presents many challenges to civil
libertarians, who may find their traditional sympathies aligned on
both sides of the issue. This article seeks to throw light on some of
those issues by reporting on a research project that ascertained the
actual effect of the Act on public high schools in Ohio.5
In Widmar v. Vincent,6 the Supreme Court held that a public
university in the State of Missouri was required to allow religiously
based student groups the same access to school facilities as it
afforded to other student groups.7 If a public university adopts a
* Professor, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Cleveland State University. J.D.,
University of Virginia, 1990; Ph.D. (Religion), University of Iowa, 1986.
20 U.S.C. §§ 4071-4074 (1994).
2 496 U.S. 226 (1990).
See 20 U.S.C. § 4071(a) (noting public secondary schools that receive federal funding and
have what is known as a limited open forum cannot deny access to nor discriminate against
students who wish to conduct meetings based on the religious content of the speech at such
See infra Part III (outlining the tension between the need for freedom of speech and the
coercive environment of public secondary schools that could lead to undue pressure on
students to accept religious doctrine).
' See infra Part IV (discussing data from The Mergens Project, a telephone survey of
Ohio's public high school districts seeking information on religiously based student clubs and
6 454 U.S. 263 (1981).
7 See id. at 277. In Widinar, students from a registered religious group called Cornerstone
sued the university after the group was told they could no longer use the university buildings
to conduct meetings. Id. at 265. The university had adopted a policy that prohibited the use
of any university buildings 'for purposes of religious worship or religious teaching.' Id. at

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