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Ark. school district: All fliers OK ... except 'church-related' ones

ADF files suit after student is barred from distributing fliers about swimming event
School Locker

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against the Pulaski County Special School District on behalf of a student and her mother, who were both prohibited from participating in Sherwood Elementary School’s literature distribution program because their fliers were “church-related.” School officials are standing by the decision despite an ADF letter that informed them of the unconstitutional nature of their policy.

“Christian students shouldn’t be discriminated against for their beliefs,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel David Cortman. “When fliers for many community programs or events are permitted in the district’s policy except for activities that are ‘church-related,’ that’s a textbook violation of free speech protected by the First Amendment. As the U.S. Supreme Court has stated, ‘Students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate.’”

In October 2009, a 3rd-grade student and her mother requested permission to distribute fliers inviting friends and classmates to a church-sponsored swimming event the following month at a local pool. The student’s teacher responded that permission would have to be granted by Sherwood Elementary School’s principal, who, after taking two weeks to respond, said that the director of elementary education decided that the fliers could not be distributed because they were “church-related.” The director eventually confirmed her decision to the parent.

The student’s mother subsequently contacted PCSSD Superintendant Rob McGill, who stated that neither she nor her daughter was allowed to distribute the fliers through the take-home folders or display them in the literature distribution rack. She then asked McGill if her child could simply hand the fliers out to her friends and classmates during non-classroom time, and he said school officials would immediately stop her if she did.

ADF attorneys were ignored by the district several times in February and March after they requested information about any school or community literature distribution policies and asking for copies of other take-home fliers distributed or displayed at the district’s schools. The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act of 1967 requires these public records to be divulged upon request.

Fliers reportedly permitted by the district include ones promoting the 4-H Club, Boy & Girl Scouts, local youth sports teams, karate lessons, summer camps, book and consignment sales, and PTA fundraisers at local restaurants.

J. Paul Davidson, one of more than 1,600 attorneys in the ADF alliance, is serving as local counsel in the lawsuit, A.W. v. Pulaski County Special School District, which was filed with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, Western Division.

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.