Guidelines for Rental of AAPS Facilities
The Ann Arbor Public Schools position on rental to churches and other groups involves a review of Michigan School Code, AAPS Board Policy 7250, and established Supreme Court case law.
AAPS Policy 7250
In accordance with Michigan School Code, the board encourages the maximum use of its school grounds, schools, and building facilities by properly organized and responsible groups. Such use, however, shall not interfere with the school routine or any school-sponsored activity, and shall not conflict with the mission or policies of the district.
Use of school facilities by not-for-profit organizations shall be without charge, except the Superintendent may charge a fee to cover actual costs incurred beyond incidental expenses like routine custodial service, utilities, and wear and tear. Use of school facilities by other person(s) or agencies shall incur a rental fee.
The Superintendent shall establish appropriate fees, contracts, and terms and conditions of use under this policy, consistent with providing equal access to facilities under board policy and law.
Two points the Ann Arbor Public Schools must legally consider regarding facility rentals.
- Are the districts properties limited open forums, or closed forums or open forums. The answer to that question will guide usin an answer.
That is because the type of forum would dictate if the district has the ability to restrict groups from having rental access to district property. A public secondary school has a limited open forum whenever such school grants an offering to or opportunity for one or more non-curriculum related groups to meet on school premises during non-instructional time. The AAPS policy is a limited open forum. We allow groups to access our buildings and as a result the District needs to maintain viewpoint neutrality regarding those groups it provided space to during non-instructional time.
- The next point we need to consider, would renting to a Christian or other Religious Group run afoul of the First Amendment Establishment or Endorsement of Religion prohibitions?
Renting to a religious group would not violate the First Amendment.
The United States Supreme Court has spoken to this issue in Lamb's Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School District, 508 U.S. 384 (1993). In Lambs Chapel, a New York school district adopted a policy, which allowed outside community groups to use its premises for “social, civic, or recreational” purposes, but expressly prohibited use for “religious” purposes. Pursuant to this policy, the school district had twice denied an application by Lamb’s Chapel, an evangelical church, to use the district’s facilities in the evening, after school hours, to show a film series concerning family and child-rearing issues from a Christian perspective.
The Supreme Court held unanimously that a school district can not deny religious groups access to its facilities for use after school hours, i.e., during evenings and on the weekends, if the school district allows other community groups to use them. However, because the school did open its property to various community groups, the Court held that the school district could not then “discriminate” based on the content of the speech, even in the interests of upholding the separation between church and state.
The Court also addressed the Establishment Clause issue. The Court ultimately rejected the notion that permitting the church to use the school after hours would violate the Establishment Clause. It stated specifically that because the film showing “would not have been during school hours, would not have been sponsored by the school, and would have been open to the public, and not just church members” the Establishment Clause was not violated. Id. at 395. When these circumstances exist, there is no “realistic danger that the community would think that the district was endorsing religion.”Id. at 395.
Also in Good News Club v Milford 553 US 98 (2001) the US Supreme Court held that when a government operates a "limited public forum," it may not discriminate against speech that takes place within that forum on the basis of the viewpoint it expresses—in this case, against religious speech engaged in by an evangelical Christian club for children.