- (Photo: REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)
A federal lawsuit accusing a Kansas public school of violating a student's First Amendment rights was filed last month by the Alliance Defending Freedom organization after the student was prohibited from distributing fliers with biblical verses throughout the school.
According to ADF, a legal organization that advocates for Christian rights, a seventh grader at Robert E. Clark Middle School in Bonner Springs, Kan., posted the fliers to announce the school's upcoming "See You at the Pole" day, an event when students across the country gather around their school's flagpole before the beginning of classes to pray for the school, students, staff and the nation.
"Public schools should encourage, not shut down, the free exchange of ideas," said Matt Sharp, a legal counsel for ADF, in a statement. "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 incident came to ADF's attention after the student was confronted by a school counselor who said the fliers were illegal and a violation of the separation of church and state because of their religious reference.
In the lawsuit, ADF contends the school's double standard in allowing secular materials to be displayed, such as a hand-made poster with an image of a tombstone and the words "Here lies k-state…I am glad you are gone forever because you try to be as good as KU but you are not," and other posters including one referencing rap artist Lil' Wayne.
The organization also notes that the student's posting of the fliers did not "interfere with the orderly conduct of educational activity within the school."
In addition, the lawsuit also explains, "students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate," and furthermore says that "the government may not discriminate against speech based on its viewpoint, regardless of the forum."
In defense of the school, Superintendent Dan Brungardt said they have a policy that prohibits the distribution of religious materials because "different entities request to distribute information to students constantly," according to Fox News, and if school officials approved each request, their educational environment would be disrupted.
However, Jeremy Tedesco, a senior legal counsel with ADF, says that marginalizing faith-based students "removes an important influence for good from the school community."
He also added, "We hope the school district will revise its policy so that students can exercise their constitutionally protected freedoms."
Although school officials took down the fliers, they were able to announce See You at the Pole day over the school's intercom system, but ADF says the turnout was less than expected as a result of the students' restricted religious speech.