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Fla. school’s ban on Easter egg hunt invitations lifted

Speech policy revamped to include religious expression

TAMPA, Fla. — A Florida school has amended its speech policies to remove restrictions on religious expression in the wake of an Alliance Defending Freedom lawsuit on behalf of a 4th-grade student. The school prohibited the student from handing out Easter egg hunt invitations to fellow students during non-instructional time until a court struck down the school’s unconstitutional policies in October of last year.

“Public schools should encourage, not shut down, the free exchange of ideas--and clearly that includes this Easter egg hunt invitation,” said Legal Counsel Matt Sharp. “A ban on a simple invitation of this sort, offered from one student to another during non-instructional time, is disturbing and unconstitutional. The school has done the right thing in revising its speech policies to remove the censorship of religious expression.”

Officials at Hillsborough County School originally contended that students “are not allowed to pass out fliers related to religious events or activities.” The two policies that U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, halted last year in Gilio v. The School Board of Hillsborough County have now been officially removed from the school’s policy manual.

In March 2012, the student and his mother developed simple invitations that he could hand out to fellow students during non-instructional time at Roland H. Lewis Elementary School in Temple Terrace for the Easter egg hunt that his mother helped organize in his neighborhood. At the event, children would participate in an egg hunt, play games, have snacks and candy, and hear the biblical story of Easter. The school’s principal, however, denied the student permission to distribute the invitations even though the school routinely allows other types of invitations, such as for birthday parties.

One of the district policies that the court ruled to be unconstitutional stated that fliers distributed by students for religious events “may not contain a proselytizing message (i.e., promote the benefits of the specific religion).” The other policy the court suspended prohibited materials that “seek to establish the supremacy of a particular religious denomination, sect, or point of view over any other religious denomination, sect, or point of view.”

“The First Amendment protects freedom of speech for all students, regardless of their religious or political beliefs,” added Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “This outcome ensures that free speech truly is free for all students.”

David Gibbs, one of nearly 2,300 allied attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom, is serving as local counsel in the case.

  • Pronunciation guide: Tedesco (Tuh-DESS’-ko)


Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.


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