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Pa. elementary school: Invitations to children’s party OK…unless held at a church

ADF attorneys file suit against Pocono Mountain School District over discriminatory policy barring 5th-grader from inviting schoolmates to church event

SCRANTON, Pa. — Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against Pocono Mountain School District officials Friday on behalf of a 5th-grade student who was prohibited from distributing fliers that invited fellow Barrett Elementary Center students to a Christmas party at her church. District policies prohibit any student speech promoting Christianity.

“Christian students and churches shouldn’t be discriminated against, censored, and excluded in public schools because of their beliefs,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman. “Disallowing a 5th-grade student’s invitation to a Christmas party just because it takes place at a church is simply unconstitutional, especially when Halloween parties and promotional events for businesses and other community groups indiscriminately receive a free pass.”

In early December, the 5th-grade Christian student was stopped from handing out invitations to classmates during non-instructional time before class.  The Christmas party flier from the student’s church that invited kindergarteners through 6th-graders read, “Admission and all activities are free! Face Painting, Ping Pong, Foosball, Cup-Stacking, Games, Prizes, Puppets, Music, Snacks, and more!”

District policies prohibit any student expression, written or verbal, that promotes Christianity or a religious point of view.  The policies also give school officials subjective discretion as to which fliers are permitted.  When denying the student’s request to distribute the fliers, Superintendent Dwight Pfennig told the student’s father that district policies “allow me to make that decision on behalf of the district.”

Consequently, the district excluded the fliers inviting students to the free Christmas party, while indiscriminately allowing other students to distribute invitations to birthday parties, Halloween celebrations, and Valentine’s dances.  The district has also permitted community groups and businesses to distribute advertisements for a basketball league, bowling club, and community classes through a take-home flier forum and a literature distribution table in the school.

Randall Wenger, chief counsel of the Harrisburg-based Independence Law Center and one of nearly 1,900 attorneys in the ADF alliance, is serving as co-counsel in the suit, K.A. v. Pocono Mountain School District.

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.