An Oklahoma Bible club, that tries to reach elementary school children with the message of Jesus Christ, is suing a school district for allegedly censoring their freedom of religious speech by preventing them from promoting the club within district schools, even though other community organizations are allowed to do so.
Owasso Kids for Christ is suing Owasso Public Schools for allegedly violating its First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by not allowing the club, which meets at Northeast Elementary School, to distribute any kind of literature or use other school communication methods to promote its faith-based events.
"This is a pretty straight forward case of the school district impermissibly discriminating against a Christian community organization based on its religious message,” said Matt Sharp, an attorney representing OKC from the Alliance Defense Fund, in an interview with The Christian Post on Tuesday.
Sharp says the club began meeting in November 2010 and had no problems initially. It quickly swelled to over 100 students and the district seemed to take no issue with allowing them to distribute information, post fliers and make announcements via the PA system about events. The club is led by adult members of the community, and group events are held either before or after school, during non-instructional hours.
In the spring of this year, however, the district began censoring certain fliers and later notified the group they would not be allowed to promote themselves at all in the schools anymore.
One rule, found in the district's policy manual, specifically targets religious organizations, saying, “No literature will be distributed that contains primarily religious, objectionable, or political overtones which may be beneficial to any particular group or business at the expense of others.”
According to the complaint, filed on Oct. 10 at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma, one problem with the district's treatment of the club is it allows other groups – such as the YMCA and the Boy Scouts – to promote events in the schools, but has denied equal access to OKC.
Furthermore, Sharp says, the district's superintendent, Clark Ogilvie, allegedly discouraged OKC from promoting themselves out in the community as well.
The school district released a statement Tuesday morning, saying that Ogilvie believes the situation has “been misconstrued and taken out of context” and attempts to clarify a few points. The district has never denied any religious groups access to schools, the statement reads, and though these groups have not been discriminated against, they must follow certain policies set by the district.
But Sharp says the club deserves equal access to the schools and the restrictions that have been placed on it are unfair.
"Our clients have a great message and a great program for kids ... and we really just want them to have the same access that all other community groups have so that they can get their positive message out to parents and students,” he said.