Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Dr. Jerold Simmons


In January 1985 Bridget Mergens, a senior at Westside High School in Omaha, Nebraska, proposed to principal James Findley that a Bible club be allowed access to school property. This action precipitated a sequence of events that propelled both Mergens and Westside to the chambers of the United States Supreme Court in 1990. When the Supreme Court decided a Bible club could have access to the school under the Equal Access Act of 1984, Mergens became a landmark case in the debate over the Establishment Clause of.the First Amendment. My case study of Board of Education of Westside Community Schools v. Bridget Mergens focuses on the origins of the access legislation, the beginnings of the Bible club, and the path of the lawsuit to the Supreme Court. The battle for passage of the Equal Access Act began with the attempt by Congress to legislate Widmar v. Vincent to secondary schools. The Widmar decision declared that a public college or university could not prevent religious meetings on campus if its policies allowed other groups to meet. Shortly after the Act's passage Mergens requested her Bible club. Once the district denied the request because it did not believe it was subject to the Act, Mergens filed suit against Westside, claiming that the group should be allowed according to the Act and that her freedom of speech had been violated. The subsequent decisions _of the federal district, appeals, and Supreme Court focused on the definitions of "open forµms" and how student organizations may or may not be "curriculum-related." The Supreme Court decided that a school could not prohibit a religious student club access if it opened its campus to other organizations not connected to the curriculum. Furthermore the Court found that the Equal Access Act was constitutional.


A Thesis Presented to the Department of History and the Faculty of the Graduate College University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Arts University of Nebraska at Omaha. Copyright 2006 Brent C. Myers