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Whoa, Momma!

Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Tracey Henry and Suzannah DiMarzio

School sued after boy's Easter invitation blocked



A little boy in Tampa brought 20 invitations to school asking his friends to join him on an Easter egg hunt where they "would have fun and learn the true meaning of Easter." His principal put a stop to it and sent a note home to his parents that said, "We are not allowed to pass out fliers related to religious events or activities."

According to this story by our colleague William Levesque, a federal judge in Tampa on Wednesday heard arguments about whether the school's refusal to allow those invitations to be distributed violated the boy's First Amendment right to free speech and religious expression. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Jenkins is being asked to grant an injunction ordering the school to let the boy distribute such materials in the future.

I think the kid has a case. Courts have previously ruled that handing out such literature in noninstructional time is permissible as long as the school activity is not substantially disrupted.

Even though the ACLU is often used as a boogey man by people who want prayer in school, the civil liberties group has actually gone to court quite a lot -- and won -- defending students' right to practice their religion in school. Public schools, according to these court cases,  can't tell kids not to wear rosaries or that they can't write about Easter or their baptism as an essay or keep the 10 Commandments or a Bible with them. Kids are free to pray in school, it just can't be led by the teacher.

And the U.S. Department of Education has issued guidelines that says students have a right to distribute religious literature, just like they can pass out a flier about a soccer tournament or piano lessons. 

The case may come down to that invitation and whether Hillsborough County lets outside groups send fliers home.

So when this fourth-grader at Lewis Elementary School in Temple Terrace wanted to invite classmates to an Easter egg hunt last March, Hillsborough School Board attorney Thomas Gonzalez said the invitations violated a policy prohibiting outside groups from handing out materials at schools. In this case, the invitations were clearly generated by the boy's church, Gonzalez said. He said that he was not being barred from inviting other children himself.

Except the principal's note didn't say that.

What would you think of a kid in your child's class handing out such an invitation? Did the principal make the right call?

--Sharon Kennedy Wynne

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[Last modified: Thursday, August 23, 2012 8:35am]


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