The Indianapolis Star had an interesting church-state story recently. It concerns a federal lawsuit filed by a Bible-based club charged fees to use a public school for meetings, while other groups don't have to pay.
I thought the Star did a pretty nice job of treating each side fairly, and the story's lede is excellent.
However, one key aspect of the story disappointed me. It's like there was some kind of gap there, yes, linked to religion. More on that in a moment.
First, though, let's start at the top. This chunk of the story is very, very long, but you need to read it all:
What's the rent on a Pike Township classroom? Well, it depends on whom you ask.
The Boy Scouts will tell you it's free. So will the Girl Scouts, Girls Inc. and a character-building group called Boys II Men.
Ask the Child Evangelism Fellowship, though, and they'll tell you it costs $45 each time you want to use a Pike Township classroom.
CEF says the fee is too high -- and it's unconstitutional.
"The group does not have the ability to pay facility fees," said Horatio Mihet, chief litigation counsel with the Liberty Counsel, which represents CEF nationwide. "It certainly does not have the ability or willingness to pay a fee charged unconstitutionally."
CEF, which wants to host its Bible-based Good News Club in New Augusta South Elementary, said the group was discriminated against and charged a fee because of its religious viewpoint.
Pike Township Schools calls the accusation "baseless" and says the district was providing free space only to "partner" groups who joined with the district to provide programs for its students.
"School-sponsored groups regularly use the facilities, and because they are school-sponsored there are no fees associated with their use," Sarah Dorsey, communications officer for Pike Township Schools, said in an email. "Several groups also pay to use the facilities in (Pike Township Schools)."
Then -- in the ninth paragraph -- the Star notes that not only has a federal lawsuit been filed, but a district judge already has made a ruling in it:
For now, U.S. District Judge William Lawrence is siding with CEF. Lawrence issued a preliminary injunction this past week against Pike Township Schools' facility use fees and said the district must waive fees for CEF to hold its Good News Club until the policy is rewritten.
Keep reading, and there's more back-and-forth background.
But here's my concern: The paper never gets around to the specific constitutional claims made by the plaintiff. Is there some kind of viewpoint discrimination going on here? Something that might clash with equal-access principles that have been in place since the Clinton White House?
I understand why a news organization would not want to turn its pages into a complex set of legal briefs. At the same time, is it really possible for tell this story without mentioning -- in broad terms -- the constitutional arguments?
If you read the lawsuit itself, you'll note that the plaintiffs asserts violations of the Free Speech Clause, the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
My simple point: The story would be better with some discussion -- from both sides -- of the specific constitutional claims. Isn't that what the story is about?
If certain groups use the public school for free, but the Bible-based club must pay, what might be unconstitutional about that?