On Monday, the Alliance Defending Freedom said it filed a lawsuit after a seventh-grade student at Robert E. Clark Middle School in Bonner Springs, Kan., was prohibited from handing out fliers promoting the student-led “See You at the Pole” prayer event scheduled to take place before school hours. While the school prohibited the religious flier, Alliance Defending Freedom said, it allowed other posters, including one promoting rap artist Lil’ Wayne with the words “Good Kush and Alcohol,” a reference to marijuana.
According to Alliance Defending Freedom, the fliers were specifically targeted because they contained Bible verses.
“Public schools should encourage, not shut down, the free exchange of ideas,” legal counsel Matt Sharp said. “The law on this is extremely clear: school policies cannot target religious speech for exclusion. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech for all students, regardless of their religious or political beliefs.”
The “See You at the Pole” event is one where students across the nation gather around the flagpole at their local school before the beginning of the school day to pray for the school, students, staff and the nation, the Alliance said.
The Alliance says that a school counselor confronted the seventh-grader at a school dance in front of her friends and claimed the fliers were “illegal” because of the Bible verses and could not be posted or distributed at school.
District policy bans the distribution of “religious materials…on school grounds or in any attendance facility before, during, or after the school day or a school activity.”
School officials tore down the posters, the Alliance said, and the student was forced to secretly hand out a few informational fliers out of fear of punishment.
"As a result," the Alliance said, "very few students attended the event."
“Students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate. Non-disruptive, private student expression is protected by the First Amendment,” the Alliance says in the lawsuit. The legal group also said that “the government may not discriminate against speech based on its viewpoint, regardless of the forum.”
According to the lawsuit, the posting of the material did not “interfere with the orderly conduct of educational activity within the school.”
“Marginalizing students of faith removes an important influence for good from the school community,” added senior legal counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “We hope the school district will revise its policy so that students can exercise their constitutionally protected freedoms.”
Ironically, the Thanksgiving edition of the school newsletter encourages students to "thank your family, friends, and God for what you have."
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