Court: Mich. Student Can Hand Out Church Flyers

An elementary school student in Michigan can distribute invitations to church activities to classmates, a federal court ruled Tuesday.

Judge Gerald E. Rosen of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan concluded that the school infringed on the student's First Amendment right to free speech when it denied him the opportunity to pass out the invitations and flyers.

Applauding the ruling, Alliance Defense Fund Senior Counsel David Cortman commented, "Christians shouldn't be discriminated against and silenced because of their beliefs. The court made the right decision by acknowledging students' and community groups' free speech rights and ruling that the district's viewpoint-based ban on the distribution of literature with a religious theme is unconstitutional."

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The student, identified as J.S., and his mother, Katharine Smith, filed suit in 2009 against Holly Area Schools after he tried to distribute invitations to a youth summer camp held at Cornerstone Church in Highland, Mich.

A second grade student at the time, J.S. placed some of the invitations in cubbyholes, which are receptacles for distributing materials to each student.

Upon learning of this, his teacher and then his principal banned the student from handing out religious materials on school grounds.

Katharine Smith went to the district superintendent who also said affirmed the ban on religious materials.

After the suit was filed, the Patterson Elementary School principal sent a letter home with each student in February of this year advising parents that outside groups and individuals were no longer permitted to submit materials to the school for distribution to students.

Judge Rosen wrote in his opinion that "such a blanket prohibition upon a student's distribution of materials on the basis of religious viewpoint is not constitutionally permissible."

"The school district cannot reasonably be viewed as having imposed time, place, or manner restrictions upon J.S.'s distribution of these materials; instead, it has flatly forbidden him from giving such materials to his classmates anywhere on school grounds at any time during the school day."

The judge ordered the school district to stop enforcing its ban against students handing out flyers and further ruled that the district could not deny the mother's request to send flyers home with students "on the sole ground that she seeks to distribute materials promoting religious activities" while permitting other community groups to distribute flyers advertising their events.

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