Lawsuit filed against public school officials for censoring "Lunch Bunch" Bible Club
Crosby, Minnesota – Federal law may say that student Bible clubs have the same rights as others to advertise their meetings in public school buildings, but Minnesota public school officials in Crosby say the law doesn’t apply on their high school campus.
According to a federal civil rights lawsuit filed on January 22, 2003, by the Alliance Defense Fund Law Center, school officials have violated the federal Equal Access Act. The suit goes on to say that school officials have committed viewpoint discrimination, "for which no compelling justification exists, in violation of the free speech rights guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth amendments of the United States Constitution."
The suit was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota.
Students Jonathan Friesner and Katie Hodges were prohibited from using posters or flyers to promote a group called the "Lunch Bunch." The Lunch Bunch was founded to celebrate "the gospel of Jesus Christ and (to share) the Bible’s religious message with club members and other students," the suit explains.
"This is an example of a lawsuit that should not have to be filed," said Gary McCaleb, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund. "Federal law is clear that the student religious expression cannot be treated as second-class speech. The idea that somehow the so-called separation of church and state makes secondary schools ‘religion-free’ zones is simply a profound misunderstanding of the law."
In September 2002 Friesner and Hodges wanted to promote the annual See You at the Pole (SYATP) event at Crosby-Ironton High School. But Principal Dean Ogg said the proposed leaflet was prohibited unless the word "prayer" was changed to "praise." Ogg later censored the group’s expression again, forbidding the club to announce a Bible study.
Although the students requested a copy of the written policy forbidding such expression, they have not yet received a copy of such a policy. "Ogg has what we call in law ‘unfettered discretion,’ which means by school policy and practice he does whatever he likes," McCaleb said. "In the case of these students, this violates the First Amendment guarantee of free speech rights. This censorship has to stop."