Students who want to distribute religious literature challenge restrictions on speech





Valerie Snyder wanted to pass out Campus Crusade Survival Kits.\nJoe Baker wanted to circulate a flier challenging evolution. Morgan\nNyman wanted to give her second-grade classmates candy and cards\nsaying "Jesus loves you."

Administrators told them all that school policy forbid them\nfrom distributing the religious literature. All three are fighting\ntheir school districts to bring their policies in line with the\nFirst Amendment.

In Pennsylvania, 19-year-old senior Joe Baker tried to distribute\na flier he wrote urging students to question their science teachers\nabout evolution. School officials stopped him from distributing\nthe flier, saying he had to submit a copy to the principal for\napproval two days before distributing it.

Pennridge High School officials eventually allowed Baker to\npass out the fliers, but with the help of the Rutherford Institute,\na conservative legal foundation, Baker filed a lawsuit against\nthe school in July. He is seeking to prevent the school from reviewing\nindependent speech prior to its distribution.

Independent student expression that is not part of a school-sponsored\npublication enjoys significant legal protection under the Supreme\nCourt's Tinker standard, which only allows administrators to censor\nspeech if it would "materially or substantially" disrupt\nthe operation of the school.

Foltz said he believes that prior review cannot be a part of\nstudent speech policies. Delaying speech is an unjust limit on\nthat speech, he said.

"The fact that it happened to him under a policy that\nis still in existence would tend to chill the possibility of other\nstudents speaking out and expressing their views on various subject\nmatters," he said.

Pennridge Superintendent Robert Kish said the district's attorney\nis working with Foltz to change the policy. Schools might be able\nto speed up the review process, he said, but the community wants\nadministrators to review literature before it is passed out in\nschool.

"We haven't prevented anything from being distributed,"\nKish said. "We just wanted the opportunity to review it."

Federal appeals courts are divided on the constitutionality\nof prior review of literature distributed in schools, with the\npractice illegal in some areas of the country and legal in others.

Meanwhile a similar religious freedom organization, the Liberty\nCounsel, is representing other students who were denied the right\nto pass out religious literature at school.

In Michigan, Valerie Snyder and Daniel Duefrene, both students\nat Houghton High School, were told by an assistant principal to\nstop passing out Campus Crusade Survival Kits consisting of a\nBible, CD and other Christian materials.

Officials said school policy specifically prohibits the distribution\nof any religious literature on school grounds, even outside of\nclass, according to the students' attorneys. Snyder and Duefrene\nare challenging the policy as a content-based restriction of their\nfreedom of expression.

In Wisconsin, Morgan Nyman, an 8-year-old student at Cushing\nElementary School in Delafield, encountered a similar policy when\nshe was told by her teacher to take back religious messages and\ncandy she had given to classmates the day before Halloween during\nfree time.

Later in the school year, Nyman sought to pass out her homemade\nreligious Valentine's Day cards during her classmates' exchange\nof Britney Spears and N'Sync cards, but was told by administrators\nthat the cards would violate the separation of church and state.

Both school districts are in the process of changing their\npolicies to settle the students' lawsuits, according to Liberty\nCounsel spokesman Joel Oster.

"Both cases are going to result in a situation where students\nare not going to be discriminated against based on their religious\nbeliefs," Oster said.


Fall 2001, reports