Two elementary school principals were declared immune from liability in the infamous Christian “candy cane” case in Texas, affecting the First Amendment rights of potentially 41 million public elementary children across the nation.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans decided that Lynn Swanson and Jackie Bomchill, principals at the Plano school district, had qualified for immunity from liability, according to The Associated Press.
Both were involved in the lawsuit, officially known as Morgan v. Plano Independent School District, in which disgruntled parents of students at the elementary school sued the school district for banning the distribution of Christian candy cane pens and other religious materials.
The case originated in 2003 when third-grade student Jonathan Morgan brought in candy cane-shaped pens to hand out to his fellow classmates during a “winter party” at Thomas Elementary School. The pens had religious messages attached to them, explaining the Christian origin of candy canes.
Before the party, Principal Lynn Swanson met with Morgan’s parents and told them that school officials would confiscate and ban all gifts having a religious nature and that students could not use the term “Christmas” during any school activity.
Not the only example of alleged free speech violations, in 2001, at the same school, another student, Michaela Wade, faced similar repercussions after passing out goodie bags, which contained “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” pencils in them. School officials searched the bags and took them away from school property after discovering the pencils.
Additionally, in 2004, Stephanie Versher was stopped by her teacher from handing out free tickets to a Christian drama, even though she did not distribute the tickets during class hours.
Rasor Elementary Principal Bomchill had instructed Versher’s teacher to stop her student from giving away tickets and to confiscate tickets that had already been handed out.
Versher was also prevented from handing out “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so” pencils after school.
No longer willing to remain quiet while witnessing the actions taken by school officials, parents banded together with Liberty Institute and sued the district for violating their children’s freedom of speech rights.
They contended that the principals were in violation of religious viewpoint discrimination while school officials argued that the First Amendment freedom of speech rights had never been extended to the distribution of non-curricular materials in public elementary schools.
The 5th Circuit Court had earlier rejected the school officials’ motion to dismiss the case and ruled that they had indeed violated the students’ constitutional rights.
The judges stated that the First Amendment protected elementary school students from religious-viewpoint discrimination.
Appealing the decision, the school district argued that administrators were following a poorly worded policy, while also claiming ignorance of religious rights extending to elementary children.
Attorneys representing the families countered that school officials had no excuse when it came to violation of students' First Amendment rights.
In its recent ruling, the full 5th Circuit sided with the school administrators, declaring that the Plano principals qualified for immunity.
However, the fragmented court however could not decide whether the children’s free speech rights were violated or if they were too young to even have First Amendment protection, according to AP.
“It’s outrageous,” the Liberty Institute stated on its site, “If they win this case, they could silence 41 million American school kids and their parents.“Do you really want kids to grow up learning that they may only respectfully express their opinion when the government approves of their ideas? What kinds of citizens would we have? What kind of future would America have? This affects you if you have a child, a grandchild, or if you just care about the future of this great country.”
Fighting since 2004 to win a final victory in the case, the Liberty Institute is asking the public to take action and help their case by donating any amount of money to their organization.
The Institute was established in 1972 as a nonprofit organization working to protect freedoms and strengthen families by impacting the legislature, media, grassroots, and the courts with the truth.
They are one of the few groups in the country that has a full-time legal staff, with Constitutional attorneys experienced in litigation. The group specifically works to protect the religious freedoms and First Amendment rights for individuals and churches.