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SHERMAN v. COMMUNITY CONSOL. SCH. DIST. 21

May 11, 1989

ROBERT SHERMAN, for himself and as natural guardian for his son, Richard Sherman, and the Society of Separationists, Inc., Plaintiffs,
v.
COMMUNITY CONSOLIDATED SCHOOL DISTRICT 21 OF WHEELING TOWNSHIP, School District Superintendent LLOYD DESCARPENTRIE, and Principal FERNE GARRETT, Defendants


Ann Claire Williams, United States District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: WILLIAMS

ANN CLAIRE WILLIAMS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

 The plaintiffs Robert Sherman, for himself and as natural guardian for his son, Richard Sherman, and the Society of Separationists, Inc. bring this complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 alleging that the defendants Community Consolidated School District 21 of Wheeling Township, School District Superintendant Lloyd Descarpentrie, and Principal Ferne Garrett violated their rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The plaintiffs also challenge the constitutionality of Ill.Rev.Stat. ch. 122, para. 27-3 (1980). The defendants move to dismiss the plaintiffs' complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b) (6). The defendants' motion is denied for the following reasons.

 I

 Rule 12(b) (6)

 When ruling on this motion, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b) (6), the court will "take the allegations in the complaint to be true and view them, along with the reasonable inferences to be drawn from them, in the light most favorable to the plaintiff[s]." Ellsworth v. City of Racine, 774 F.2d 182, 184 (7th Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1047, 89 L. Ed. 2d 574, 106 S. Ct. 1265 (1986). A complaint should be dismissed only when "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff is unable to prove any set of facts which would entitle plaintiff to relief." Id. In addition, a "court must construe [ pro se ] pleadings liberally, and mere vagueness or lack of detail does not constitute sufficient grounds for a motion to dismiss." *fn1" Strauss v. City of Chicago, 760 F.2d 765, 767 (7th Cir. 1985); Cain v. Lane, 857 F.2d 1139, 1142 (7th Cir. 1988) (pro se complaints must be read liberally). Finally, the court notes that "in 'complex cases involving fundamental rights and important questions of public policy, such peremptory treatment [as dismissal] is rarely appropriate.'" DeMallory v. Cullen, 855 F.2d 442, 445 (7th Cir. 1988), quoting Rutan v. Republican Party of Illinois, 848 F.2d 1396, 1414 (7th Cir. 1988) (Ripple, J., concurring in part, dissenting in part).

 II

 Facts

 The pertinent facts as alleged in the complaint are as follows. Richard Sherman is a first grade student at James Whitcomb Riley Public Elementary School. At 9:05 a.m. Principal Garrett "addresses all classrooms on an intercom system telling them to:

 
Please rise for the all-school pledge. I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

 Richard is publically asked to stand, put one hand over his heart, and perform this ceremony. Complaint, para. 5. The Shermans, who are practicing atheists, are members of the Society of Separationists. The Society is a Maryland corporation licensed to do business in Illinois. The Society "has played a historical role in Church/State separation[,] government-coerced observances and other United States Constitutional issues for many years." Id. at para. 4.

 III

 Standing

 The defendants move to dismiss the complaint on a variety of grounds. The defendants first contend that the Society does not have standing to pursue this action as a party plaintiff on its own behalf. *fn2" They are correct. The Society itself is not in a position to assert those rights, claimed to be constitutionally protected, which the statute curtails. Cf. N.A.A.C.P. v. Button, 371 U.S. 415, 428, 9 L. Ed. 2d 405, 83 S. Ct. 328 (1963). The Society, therefore, does not suffer the actual or threatened injury required to make out a case or controversy between itself and the defendants within the meaning of Article III. See Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United For Separation of Church and State, Inc., 454 U.S. 464, 472, 70 L. Ed. 2d 700, 102 S. Ct. 752 (1982); FMC Corp. v. Boesky, 852 F.2d 981, 987 (7th Cir. 1988). However, the above conclusion does not foreclose the possibility that the Society may be able to bring suit on behalf of its members injured by the challenged conduct. The Society may bring suit on behalf of its members if

 
(a) its membership would otherwise have standing to sue in their own right; (b) the interests it seeks to protect are germane to the organization's purpose; and (c) neither the claim asserted nor the relief requested ...

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