Student's First Amendment Rights Violated by School Says U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals

The Pocono Mountain School District believes elementary school students should have their First Amendment rights greatly limited.

In December 2010, a fifth grade girl at Barrett Elementary Center in Cresco, Pennsylvania went to school carrying flyers for a Christmas party at her church.  Although other students have passed out flyers and invitations to other out-of-school events like scouting and various clubs, school officials stopped the girl from handing out her flyers because it contained elements of religious faith.  The Pocono Mountain School District stood behind the school's decision, claiming they have a policy that forbids anything being handed out that mentions religious faith in any fashion.

In March of 2011, Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit against Pocono Mountain School District on behalf of the student, claiming that her First Amendment rights of free speech had been violated.  The school district not only cited their policies but argued before the court that elementary students are young enough to have their First Amendment rights greatly limited.

A lower court heard the case and ruled that the school had indeed violated the student’s First Amendment rights.  The school district appealed the case to the Third US Circuit Court of Appeals who just issued a ruling that backs up the lower court’s decision that the school district did in fact violate the student’s First Amendment rights.  The Appeal Court also ruled that the two policies the school used as their defense were unconstitutional when applied in this form of student expression.  In their decision, the court wrote:

“It is difficult to identify a constitutional justification for cabining the First Amendment protections ... to older students.  The fact that [the student] was only in the fifth-grade and the invitation originated from her church does not mandate a different approach.”

David Cortman, Senior Legal Counsel for ADF who filed the original lawsuit on behalf of the student, commented about the latest ruling:

“In this day and age, when our younger students are subject to so much that comes from both the school district and outside sources, it’s certainly important that they’re able to speak about their own faith and not be subject to censorship for it.”

“In this case, the school district tried to argue that for some reason the Constitution doesn’t apply to younger students, but the court rejected that theory – and that’s certainly good for all students.”

This is not the first time that a school district trampled on a student’s First Amendment rights only to have the courts rule in favor of the student.  The Candy Cane Case from Plano, Texas, was fairly similar to this one and ended with a similar court ruling in favor of the student.

If you find that your child’s school is bullying them about their Christian faith, church or the like, check into it and if need be contact someone like Alliance Defending Freedom.  Schools must be stopped and taught that they are not as powerful and privileged as they think they are.  If you don’t take action, the school will continue to bully other kids and violate their First Amendment rights, so you owe it not only to your child, but all of the others as well.