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Federal court concludes Michigan school violated student’s First Amendment rights

School officials prohibited student represented by ADF attorneys from distributing candy canes with Christian message
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DETROIT — A federal judge determined Monday that officials with the School District of the City of Saginaw violated the First Amendment rights of a student represented by attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund.  School officials forbade the student, Joel Curry, from “selling” candy canes to classmates as part of a classroom marketing project until he removed a Christian message about the significance of the candy cane that was attached to each one.

“The First Amendment speech rights of Christian students are just as protected as those of other students.  The religious nature of their speech does not diminish that protection,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeff Shafer.  “The court rightly concluded that school officials did not have a legitimate basis for restricting Joel Curry’s speech.  The cards attached to Joel’s candy canes were not disruptive to the class project or to the educational environment, nor did they in any way amount to a state endorsement of religion.”

Shafer added, “The fact that school officials censored student speech they viewed as religious further demonstrates the disinformation that exists--and that too many people have believed--about the First Amendment.”

In the opinion issued by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division, Judge David Lawson wrote, “The exercise and its objectives did not preclude incorporating religion.  There is no evidence that a child’s use of a religious product would prevent other students from learning what the assignment was designed to teach.  The concern that the religious message on Joel’s product would interfere with the pedagogical exercise is not a legitimate basis on which to restrict his speech.”

Lawson added, “Allowing the sale of the card along with the ornament would not have been perceived by a casual observer as an endorsement of a religious message by the school.  The Court finds that the defendant’s concern over an Establishment Clause violation was not a valid reason to curtail Joel Curry’s speech rights.”

ADF attorneys filed suit on behalf of Curry and his parents in June 2004.  The U.S. Department of Justice also filed a brief in the case in support of Curry.

ADF is a legal alliance defending the right to hear and speak the Truth through strategy, training, funding, and litigation.

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