Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hillsborough schools may let students hand out religious information

TAMPA — For the second time in as many years, the Hillsborough County School Board is wrestling with a question of religion.

At a public hearing, the board will hear the pros and cons of allowing students to circulate religious materials at school.

But regardless of what is said, board members are likely to allow it. A federal court ruling in October, in favor of a family who wanted to distribute Easter event invitations, leaves little choice.

"The court's really tying our hands, and that for me is very troubling," Chairwoman April Griffin said Tuesday.

With little discussion, the board agreed Tuesday to start the hearing process, which will take 30 to 90 days.

If a new policy is adopted, students of all faiths would be able to distribute information as long as it is not disruptive, inappropriate or "grossly prejudicial to an ethnic, religious, racial or other delineated group."

That's a far cry from the existing policy, which allows school officials to prohibit materials that "seek to establish the supremacy of a particular religious denomination, sect, or point of view over any other religious denomination, sect, or point of view."

Courts in some communities have ruled that religious materials in the hands of students are protected under a First Amendment right to free speech.

One such case in a federal appeals court in Pennsylvania, over invitations to a Christmas party, went in the child's favor.

The attorneys came from the same organization that represented the Gilio family of Temple Terrace, who sued after their son was stopped at Lewis Elementary from handing out invitations to an Easter egg hunt. The invitation promised guests would learn "the true meaning of Easter."

At the time, the school district argued the invitations appeared to be from a church, and that therefore the church was seeking to intrude in the school.

But the family's attorneys argued successfully that, regardless of where the material originates, the child has a right to bring it to school.

"Kids don't shed their First Amendment rights when they walk through the door of the school," said Terry Kemple, a Christian conservative activist in east Hillsborough and candidate for the School Board.

Kemple was at the forefront of an effort last year to ban representatives of the Council on American-Islamic Relations from speaking in local schools.

He insisted religion had nothing to do with that fight. He and his followers said CAIR had terrorist ties, which CAIR denied.

When asked Tuesday if he would accept a student who wanted to deliver an Islamic message on campus, Kemple said, "absolutely, if it isn't CAIR."

Hassan Shibly of CAIR, who was at the center of last year's controversy, said he welcomes a free exchange of ideas but wonders if Islamic material truly would be allowed.

"We hope that those who are fighting to ensure Christian students can share their faith in school will stand strong with Jewish, Muslim, and other students who wish to do the same," he said. "You cannot stand for First Amendment rights only for the faith or point of view you agree with and deny it to those who share a faith you disagree with."

Griffin said she, too, wonders what might come from a change. "I certainly hope that people understand the concept of 'be careful what you wish for' because it just might come true," she said.

It's a complex issue, said Rabbi Jason Rosenberg of Congregation Beth Am, a North Tampa synagogue. "I tend to lean toward free speech," Rosenberg said. "But there is an issue about marginalizing people."

He also made a distinction between private acts, such as passing out party invitations; and official acts, such as prayer before a school event. "One of the side effects is that it highlights the differences between the students who are praying, who seem normal, and those who in this case are not normal."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this article. Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356

Hillsborough schools may let students hand out religious information 04/23/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 12:06am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Review: Mumford and Sons shower Amalie Arena with love in euphoric Tampa debut

    Blogs

    There are releases, and then there are releases. And minutes into their concert Wednesday at Amalie Arena, Mumford and Sons gave Tampa the latter.

    Mumford and Sons performed at Tampa's Amalie Arena on Sept. 20, 2017.
  2. FEMA to open disaster recovery center in Riverview

    Hurricanes

    The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it will open a disaster recovery center Thursday in Riverview for Hillsborough County residents impacted by Hurricane Irma.

  3. Life sentence for man convicted in killing of brother of Bucs' Kwon Alexander

    Bucs

    An Alabama man who shot and killed the 17-year-old brother of Bucs linebacker Kwon Alexander in 2015 was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday, the Anniston (Ala.) Star reported.

  4. Remember him? Numbers prove Ben Zobrist is one of greatest Rays of all time

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The first foray back to the Trop by the best manager the Rays have had obscured the second return visit by arguably the second-best player in franchise history.

    Figures.

    Chicago Cubs second baseman Ben Zobrist (18) grounds into a double play to end the top of the third inning of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017.
  5. GOP's new repeal bill would likely leave millions more uninsured, analyses suggest

    Health

    WASHINGTON — The latest Republican bid to roll back the Affordable Care Act would likely leave millions of currently insured Americans without health coverage in the coming decades, and strip benefits and protections from millions more, a growing number of independent studies suggest.

    Vice President Mike Pence listens as President Donald Trump talks to reporters about the Graham-Cassidy health care bill during a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi at the Palace Hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, in New York. [Evan Vucci | Associated Press]