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Court: Ark. school wrong to ban flier for church-sponsored event

Policy that kept 3rd-grader, parent from distributing invitations to church activities on hold while suit progresses

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A federal court issued an order Friday that halts a Pulaski County Special School District policy used by school officials to deny a 3rd-grade student and her mother permission to distribute fliers for church-sponsored activities. Alliance Defense Fund attorneys represent the Sherwood Elementary School mother and daughter in a lawsuit filed last April against the district, which will not be able to enforce its unconstitutional policy while the case proceeds.

“Christians shouldn’t be discriminated against for expressing their beliefs,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman. “The court was right to keep the district from enforcing its unconstitutional policy while the lawsuit moves forward. When fliers for numerous community programs or events are permitted, to the exclusion of ‘church-related’ activities, 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. School officials, including Sherwood Elementary School’s principal, said that the fliers could not be distributed because they were “church-related.” However, the district freely permitted fliers promoting numerous other activities, such as ones sponsored by 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.

In its preliminary injunction order, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, Western Division, wrote, “Indeed, the record clearly shows that defendants’ regulations, as presently enforced, merely stamp out certain viewpoint-based speech.”

J. Paul Davidson, one of nearly 1,900 attorneys in the ADF alliance, is serving as local counsel in the lawsuit, A.W. v. Pulaski County Special School District.

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.