WASHINGTON — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court Monday, asking the court to consider whether a fifth-grade student’s religious expression on a classroom project may be categorically identified as “offensive” and therefore legitimately censored by Michigan school officials.
“Penalizing Christian students for expressing their beliefs in the classroom is unacceptable under the Constitution. The First Amendment exists to protect private speakers, not to enable religious discrimination by government officials,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeff Shafer. “The court of appeals’ unprecedented classification of student religious speech as an ‘offense’ worthy of censorship should be reversed.”
In 2003, fifth-grader Joel Curry, a student at Handley School in Saginaw, Mich., was required to remove a religious message he had attached to homemade candy cane ornaments he made as part of a student project. Curry was participating in an annual school event known as “Classroom City,” in which students develop and “sell” a product at individual booths.
Curry was permitted to continue participating in the class activity on the condition that the pamphlets bearing the religious message be removed from his ornaments. Curry’s pamphlets had assigned a Christian significance to the characteristics of candy canes. ADF attorneys filed a lawsuit against the Saginaw School District and the Handley School principal on behalf of Curry in 2004. In 2005, the U.S. Department of Justice wrote a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Curry.
In 2006, a federal judge ruled that the school principal had violated Curry’s First Amendment rights. However, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit later decided to the contrary. ADF attorneys then asked the full court to rehear the case. Because the court declined, ADF attorneys are now seeking review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Automatically classifying religious speech as offensive runs counter to settled constitutional precedent,” said Shafer. “We hope the Supreme Court will agree to review Joel’s case and resolve this important question, which could potentially affect thousands of public school students.”
ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.