The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit on Tuesday unanimously affirmed a lower court's order that found two policies at a Pennsylvania school district unconstitutional after they were used to prevent a 5th-grade student from distributing invitations to a church Christmas party.
The student had her rights to distribute Christmas party invitations to her classmates upheld after the appeals court ruled in her favor.
"Public schools should encourage, not shut down, the free exchange of ideas," said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel David Cortman, who argued before the court in October. "Those ideas include a 5th-grader's invitations to a religious event. The 3rd Circuit was correct in striking down the school district's unconstitutional ban."
The student, who was identified only as K.A., was initially prohibited from giving the party flyers to her schoolmates at Barrett Elementary Center because school officials deemed that they contained a religious message. ADF filed a lawsuit on the student's behalf in March 2011.
"America's public schools should recognize the constitutionally protected freedom of students who wish to hand out these kinds of fliers," said ADF Legal Counsel Matt Sharp. "A flier cannot be banned just because some element of religious faith is a part of it. On the contrary, the First Amendment specifically protects religious speech."
The Pennsylvania school district had tried to argue using two literature distribution policies, numbers 220 and 913, to justify the ban, saying that the First Amendment freedoms of elementary-age students can be severely limited. The 3rd Circuit did not agree with that argument, however, and said that "it is difficult to identify a constitutional justification for cabining the First Amendment protections … to older students."
The court added, "The fact that K.A. was only in the fifth-grade and the invitation originated from her church does not mandate a different approach."