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Montgomery County two-time loser in religious flyer case

Federal court of appeals rules unanimously that school flyer policy violated free speech rights of religious group defended by CLS and ADF
Published On: 10/18/2017

RICHMOND, Va. — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit unanimously ruled today that Montgomery County Public Schools denied a Maryland Christian organization its First Amendment right to participate in the county’s “backpack flyer forum.”  Christian Legal Society attorneys represent Child Evangelism Fellowship of Maryland in the free speech rights litigation funded by the Alliance Defense Fund.

“Christian organizations are not second class to other organizations,” said Litigation Counsel Timothy J. Tracey of CLS’s Center for Law & Religious Freedom.  “When a school district opens up an avenue for public expression, it cannot exclude certain people or organizations merely because their viewpoint is religious.  The 4th Circuit, for the second time, affirmed that principle in this situation.”

The ruling today came in the second appeal over Montgomery County’s refusal to distribute CEF’s flyers because of the organization’s religious viewpoint.  In 2004, the 4th Circuit ruled that the school district’s refusal to distribute CEF’s flyers was unconstitutional religious discrimination in violation of CEF’s freedom of speech.

The school district subsequently adopted a “revised” policy that it claims allows it to distribute flyers for many community groups while still not distributing CEF’s flyers.  A federal district court upheld the new policy, but CEF appealed the decision to the 4th Circuit.

In that appeal, CLS attorney Kimberlee W. Colby argued on behalf of CEF that Montgomery County had tortuously amended its flyer distribution policy to continue excluding CEF, all the while still allowing distribution of the same type of flyers for other groups.  The 4th Circuit, in a decision authored by Judge Diane Motz, held that “permitting MCPS unbridled discretion to deny access to the oft-used forum--for any reason at all, including antipathy to a particular viewpoint--does not ensure the requisite viewpoint neutrality.”

Together, ADF, America’s largest legal alliance, and CLS, America’s premier membership organization of Christian legal professionals, defend religious liberty, human life, marriage, and the family.

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