In Rogers v. Mulholland, No. 09-493 ML, 2012 WL 1565091 (D. R.I. May 4, 2012), the court disagreed with taxpayers including the athletic director of a public high school that the city defendants’ practice of allocating permits to public and religious schools to utilize athletic fields violated the Establishment Clause and Equal Protection Clause. The court applied the “Lemon test” and found that: (1) the city’s permitting policies implement the clearly secular purpose of allocating limited game and practice field space to all junior high and high school students within the city; (2) their effect did not advance or inhibit religion inasmuch as the fields themselves are wholly secular in nature, their ownership remains with the city, no funds are furnished to religious schools, and denying the religious schools access would be like denying them benefits such as police and fire protection, sewage facilities and streets and sidewalks; and (3) they led to limited interaction between city and religious authorities. The court also applied the endorsement test and found that a reasonable observer aware of the relevant circumstances and context of the city’s conduct would not perceive a message of governmental endorsement or sponsorship of religion. The court was not impressed that the only private schools benefiting from the permit process were Roman Catholic, because they were the only private schools in the city.
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City may allocate athletic field use permits to religious and public schools alike
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