D.C. Corporation Counsel John R. Risher said yesterday that the University of the District of Columbia can no longer provide office space and other facilities to campus religious groups because to do so would violate the First Amendment's prohibition against state establishment of religion.
In a related opinion issued yesterday, Risher said the city may not bar religious groups from using public parks and recreation areas as long as the groups do not interfere with the general public's use of the facilities and that no disorder is "unitiated" by the religious groups.
Risher said he issued his first opinion at the request of Dr. Charles D. Kinard, dean of students at the University of the District of Columbia, who sought legal clarification of whether the D.C. Teachers College campus of the university should continue to permit a representative of the Cathloc archdiocese of D.C. to serve as campus minister and use campus facilities.
A similar situation, Risher said, exists at the Mount Vernon-Square Federal City College campus in which a Baptist minister under an agreement with the University and five Protestant denominations also serves as a campus minister.
Because the ampus ministers have religion as their main purpose. Risher said, sponsorship of the groups by the university is prohibited. He added that while some of their work may be secular, the emphases is on religion.
"This opinion is not to be construed to say that the university should deny the use of its public space on the grounds that one member wanted to talk about religious matter," Risher said. "Rather it's the patronage (by providing office space, staff and telephone facilities) which has the coloring of university endorsement or participation."
At the request of the D.C. Department of General Services, Risher said that the department could legally grant permission to the Chirstian Evagelistic Association to hold a religious rally in a city park.
"Public parks have always been held in trust for use by the entire public for expression of opinions and ideas, among other things," Risher said.