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Rules on School Use by Church Groups Upheld

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A federal appeals court has ruled that Kansas City, Mo., school officials do not violate the rights of religious groups by requiring them to follow a special procedure for renting auditoriums or classroom space.

A school-district policy requiring the city school board to approve church groups' rental applications is justifiable because school officials have legitimate concerns about the separation of church and state, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled in late December.

Under the policy, members of the general public can rent space in schools for "educational, recreational, civic, and cultural activities" simply by applying to the district's facilities division.

Controversial Film

The appeals court's ruling came in a lawsuit filed against the district by the pastor of a 29-member church. The pastor, Ronald Salinas, was granted permission by the district's facilities division in January 1982 to show six films on religious groups over a six-week period at a local elementary school.

According to Michael Whitehead, Mr. Salinas' lawyer, the church's permit was revoked by school officials three weeks into the film series after they received numerous complaints about one of the films, which characterized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a cult.

Mr. Whitehead said that when his client complained to school officials, he was told he could obtain another rental permit by applying directly to the city school board during its March 1982 meeting.

"It was as if they were saying, 'We've stopped your Christmas pageant, but you can hold it again in July,"' Mr. Whitehead said. Instead of reapplying for a permit, Mr. Salinas filed suit in federal district court, claiming the school district policy violated the free-exercise clause of the First Amendment and the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

According to Shirley Keeler, the Kansas City board's lawyer, the federal district judge granted the school district's motion for summary judgment in its favor in December 1983. The Eighth Circuit Court upheld the lower court's ruling in the case, Salinas v. School District of Kansas City, Mo.

Mr. Whitehead said his client has decided not to press his case "for technical legal reasons."

"This issue is far from over, however." he continued. "We'll be looking for another case to test this policy."--tm

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