A federal court of appeals heard arguments by a Pennsylvania school district on Wednesday asking to reverse a district court order that told school officials they could not ban a 5th-grader's fliers that invited other students to a Christmas party held at a church.
The legal process began when Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed suit in March of last year on behalf of the student after she was stopped from distributing the fliers to Barrett Elementary Center students nearly two years ago.
In October 2011, the court found that the Superintendent of the Pocono Mountain School District had "elusive criteria for determining which materials could be distributed [that] is simply too broad and vague to be considered reasonable" and are "ripe for abuse."
Even though the district revised its policies, the court found that the revisions were insufficient to eliminate violations of student constitutional freedoms protected by the First Amendment.
ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman argued that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit should affirm the district court order. There was no decision made by the court during the hearing Wednesday involving the school district.
"Public schools should encourage, not shut down, the free exchange of ideas – and that certainly includes a 5th-grader's Christmas party invitations," Cortman said. "America's public schools should recognize the constitutionally protected freedom of religious students who wish to hand out these kinds of fliers. The district court was right to stop this unconstitutional ban on Christmas party invitations. Numerous courts have upheld similar fliers around the country."
An attorney for the district told the appeals court that schools should "protect our school children from an influx of outside advertising" even if students are passing out the material, reported the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The district apparently adopted the policy in order for the superintendent to be able to decide which fliers he would allow students to distribute.
"Our position is that the students should be allowed to hand out fliers to other students during non-instructional times," said Cortman during the hearing.
Randall Wenger, chief counsel of the Harrisburg-based Independence Law Center and one of nearly 2,200 allied attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom, is serving as co-counsel in the suit, K.A. v. Pocono Mountain School District.