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NEW WAYS MINISTRY v. NATIONAL 4-H COUNCIL

August 31, 1982

NEW WAYS MINISTRY, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
NATIONAL 4-H COUNCIL, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: PARKER

 BARRINGTON D. PARKER, District Judge:

 In this action, the plaintiffs, an organization of Catholic clergy named the New Ways Ministry and its co-directors Sister Jeannine Gramick ("the Ministry"), claim that the National 4-H Council ("the Council") violated the First and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution when it denied the Ministry the use of Council facilities for a conference in November 1981. The plaintiffs had sought to hold the "First National Conference on Homosexuality and the Catholic Church" at the Council's National 4-H Center ("the Center") in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Named as defendants are the Council, its director, and officials at the United States Department of Agriculture ("USDA"). *fn1" The plaintiffs seek declaratory and monetary relief for the alleged violation of their constitutional rights. *fn2"

 On November 20, 1981, plaintiffs' motions for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction were denied. Since then discovery has been completed and the parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment.

 The central question presented in this lawsuit is whether the defendants, in denying the Ministry's application for use of the Center, acted under color of federal law. *fn3" For the reasons stated below, this Court finds that the Council did not act under color of federal law and therefore grants the defendants' motions for summary judgment.

 Background

 The material facts are uncontested and are briefly stated. The Ministry is a nonprofit corporation devoted to the concerns of homosexuals within the Catholic Church. The organization planned a national conference to be held on November 20-22, 1981.

 In early October 1981, Sister Gramick inquired at the Center about the possibility of its use for the planned conference. She was told that space was available on the requested dates but that a written application would be required. Sister Gramick complied. The Center's staff then requested more information on the group's purpose. Sister Gramick responded by submitting two informational brochures, which describe the group's purpose as follows:

 
To provide basic and solid information regarding homosexuality from the perspective of sociology, moral, pastoral and feminist theology, religious life and celibacy for national and diocesan Catholic leadership. *fn5"

 On November 3, 1981, the Council informed Sister Gramick that the application had not been approved. Don Henderson, the Council's Director of Program Operations, wrote Sister Gramick that the Ministry's proposed use of the Center did "not appear to meet the [Cooperative Extension Service] guidelines for use of the Center." *fn6" One week later, the Ministry applied for temporary injunctive relief. After a hearing, the application was denied. A motion to dismiss filed by the Council was denied on December 16, 1981. The cross-motions for summary judgment then followed.

 Legal Analysis

 A.

 It is fundamental that the First and Fifth Amendments, which the Ministry asserts were violated by the defendants, do not apply to acts of private persons or entities. Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3, 11, 3 S. Ct. 18, 21, 27 L. Ed. 835 (1883); Rendell-Baker v. Kohn, 457 U.S. 830, , 102 S. Ct. 2764, 2769, 73 L. Ed. 2d 418 (1982). The Ministry argues that the decision of the Council to deny its application constituted "state action" and is therefore subject to constitutional limitations. Its argument principally rests on two theories. First, the Ministry asserts that there exists a "symbiotic relationship" between the state and the Council similar to the relationship in Burton v. Wilmington Parking Authority, 365 U.S. 715, 81 S. Ct. 856, 6 L. Ed. 2d 45 (1961) (refusal of a restaurant located in a public parking garage to serve blacks constituted state action). Second, the Ministry asserts that the Council exercises a "public function," i.e., exercising powers that are "traditionally the exclusive prerogative of the ...


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