“RELENTLESS”

That seems to be the consensus of opinions behind a Roswell, New Mexico independent school district’s retaliation against students who wanted to spread the Word of God by passing out Krispy Kreme donuts to teachers and students with Biblical passages attached to them. One student was immediately sent home and two others forced to spend a Saturday morning sitting alone in the classroom for four hours as a punishment in yet another of RISD’s “relentless” mission to squash religious freedom and tolerance.

According to a lawsuit filed on behalf of the students by Liberty Counsel, a Christian legal defense fund, the Roswell Independent School District retaliated against a Christian group called Relentless, punishing and suspending its members for buying and giving fresh Krispy Kreme doughnuts with Bible verses to each of their teachers. But here’s more detail about Relentless…

The students went to great lengths to share the Word of God. The closest Krispy Kreme shop was in Texas. Some members of the group drove almost six hours round trip, stayed overnight, got up at 3 a.m., filled their car’s back seat with fresh doughnuts and got back to school on time to deliver the doughnuts. When they handed out the doughnuts, a Scripture verse was included.

“Some teachers are worried about their students giving them bullets, and this school suspends students over a Bible verse! These students are living their Christian beliefs by showing kindness,” says Mathew Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel and dean of Liberty University School of Law. “It is outrageous that the Roswell school officials are mean to these students solely because they are hostile to their Christian faith.” In the past these students have handed out sandwiches, hot chocolate and candy canes to the student body and faculty. They helped staff with the trash and fellow students with their lunch trays. However, the school has allegedly bullied and suspended students who were exercising their freedom of religion by distributing abstinence wristbands and plastic models of babies at 12 weeks gestation, bringing attention to the life of the unborn by declaring, “Its time to shut this down… some students are getting offended.” Herein lies the problem that RISD will face in defending this lawsuit.

Generally, the First Amendment protects the private religious speech of students both ON and OFF the school campus. The Supreme Court has determined that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” The SCOTUS also has ruled that a student’s free-speech rights apply “when [they are] in the cafeteria, or on the playing field, or on the campus during authorized hours…” School officials can only restrict student speech that creates and material and substantial disruption to the school’s ability to fulfill its educational goals. But, mere fear or apprehension of a disruption is not sufficient to enable the school to prohibit speech or expression. Case in point…

In 2005, school officials in Westfield, Massachusetts, repeatedly denied the requests of student members of the Westfield High School Life and Insight for Eternity Club (LIFE Club) to distribute candy canes with an attached religious message. The front of the message read “Merry Christmas” in large lettering and contained information about the club and a Bible passage. The school principle told the group, who sought approval under school policy, they could NOT distribute the “offensive message” unless they changed the message to something “non-offensive”, such as Season’s Greetings” or “Happy Holidays.” They students agreed to change the message to “Happy Holidays from the Bible Club.”

Then in 2002, a LIFE Club member approached the principle, and eventually the school superintendent, for permission to distribute the candy canes with the religious message. After the principal and superintendent repeatedly denied the request, LIFE Club members proceeded to hand out the candy canes to fellow students during the day and during non-instructional time between classes and during lunch. After the “Winter Break,” the principle summoned LIFE Club members to his office at which time he “informed the members that each would have to serve a one-day in-school suspension for insubordination, for distributing the candy canes with the religious message after they had been denied their request.”

Following an unsuccessful appeals process, the students and their parents filed a lawsuit, which alleged, “that the school’s policies deny them their statutory and constitutional rights to freedom of speech and expression.” A federal district court agreed with the parents and required the school district to stop enforcing their unconstitutional practices.

The Supreme Court also has held that the Constitution “affirmatively mandates accommodation, not merely tolerance, of all religions, and forbids hostility towards any.” First Amendment rights of free speech and expression accompany each student throughout the school day, both inside and out of the classroom. School officials must permit students to convey religious sentiments through activity, school assignments, selection of reading materials and clothing that convey a religious message through words or symbols.

Supreme Courts rulings in cases such as Lemon v Kurtzman, Stone v Graham, Van Orden v Perry, McGowan v Maryland, Everson v Board of Education, along with time-based factors including the Lemon and establishment test, provide a measure of guidance for lower-courts. However, inconsistent decisions reached by some ignorant lower courts and misinformation from anti-religious groups have caused some confusion concerning governmental support of freedom of religion and expression and the ability of students to practice those rights on and off the school campus, during and after school hours. But be it noted… the Constitution does not require government officials to obliterate religious observances or expression from public schools or the public square.

God bless all of us… and God bless America.

 


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