FORT MYERS, Fla. — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed suit in federal court Tuesday after the Collier County School Board rejected a church’s attempt to participate in a flier distribution program open to other community groups. The board refused to allow Cypress Wood Presbyterian Church to advertise its upcoming Vacation Bible School because of the religious nature of the event even though the school district has allowed fliers from other religious and non-religious community groups.
“Churches shouldn’t be discriminated against for their beliefs. Schools can’t ban the distribution of a Christian group’s literature because of its particular religious message while approving the messages of other religious and non-religious groups,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel David Cortman. “Singling out a church for discriminatory treatment in this way is a very clear violation of the church’s First Amendment rights.”
Cypress Wood Presbyterian Church contacted the district’s Community Request Office to inquire about participating in the flier distribution program, which allows non-profit community groups to send written materials home with students. The church was advised that the district “did not allow religious events to be promoted,” but that the church should submit its proposed materials anyway, and the official would “see what she could do.”
By policy and practice, however, the district has permitted non-profit organizations such as Angel Food Ministries, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the University of South Florida, Sports Camp, and the National Junior Golf Association to participate in the flier distribution program.
On April 21, the church submitted its materials. After receiving no response from the district, the pastor made multiple attempts to contact the school with no success. Several days later, the assistant superintendent informed the pastor that the fliers would not be distributed.
ADF-allied attorney Roger Gannam of Jacksonville is assisting with the lawsuit, Cypress Wood Presbyterian Church v. The School Board of Collier County, filed with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Fort Myers 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.