Court: Students…circulate your flyers--Christians, too
HOLLY, Mich. — A federal court ruled Tuesday that Holly Area School District officials can no longer unconstitutionally prohibit an elementary school student and his mother, represented by Alliance Defense Fund attorneys, from distributing invitations for other students to attend a Christian summer camp. ADF attorneys filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Christian student and his parent against the district last year after a teacher told the second-grader that nothing from a church could be distributed at school. Both the principal and the superintendent upheld the decision--and also prohibited the mother from sending the invitations home with students--even though other students and community groups were allowed to freely distribute literature.
“Christians shouldn’t be discriminated against and silenced because of their beliefs,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman. “The court made the right decision by acknowledging students’ and community groups’ free speech rights and ruling that the district’s viewpoint-based ban on the distribution of literature with a religious theme is unconstitutional.”
In June 2009, the student attempted to distribute flyers at Patterson Elementary School inviting his classmates and friends to the Youth Summer Camp at Cornerstone Church. After he began placing the flyers in cubbyholes where other flyers are placed, a teacher ordered him to stop distributing them, stressing that anything coming from a church cannot be distributed at school. The teacher then removed the flyers and told the student to place them in his backpack, and the principal later informed the student’s mother that because of the so-called “separation of church and state,” religious materials could not be distributed at schools. The principal also denied the mother’s request to send the same flyers home with students while routinely permitting community groups such as the Girl Scouts, 4-H Club, and even other summer camps, to do so.
The court ruled the district’s ban against the distribution of religious materials violated both the student’s and his mother’s First Amendment rights. In his opinion partially granting the motion for preliminary injunction, a federal judge ordered the district to stop enforcing its ban against students handing out flyers, declaring that “such a blanket prohibition upon a student’s distribution of materials on the basis of religious viewpoint is not constitutionally permissible.” The court further ruled that the district could not deny the mother’s request to send flyers home with students “on the sole ground that she seeks to distribute materials promoting religious activities” while permitting other community groups to distribute flyers advertising their events.
“When the speech of students and community groups are allowed free reign, while those with a religious affiliation are censored, we have a direct violation of the U.S. Constitution,” said ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Matthew Sharp. “Churches should have no less of a voice than any other groups that benefit the community.”
In the lawsuit J.S. v. Holly Area Schools, filed with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Joel J. Kirkpatrick of Farmington Hills, Michigan, one of more than 1,800 attorneys in the ADF alliance, is serving as local counsel.
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.