SCHOOL Court finds religious fliers OK
The district doesn't endorse religion by distributing fliers, the court ruled.
CINCINNATI (AP) -- A school district is allowed to resume distributing fliers promoting religious events to pupils, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court decision that found the Crestview Local School District violated the Constitution's prohibition against a government establishment of religion by passing out religious material to pupils in their school mailboxes.
Judge Deborah Cook, writing for the unanimous three-judge panel, concluded that the school district does not endorse religion simply by distributing fliers advertising religious activities. Other federal courts have reached that conclusion in similar cases, Cook wrote.
The district, which serves about 1,000 pupils in the rural northwest Ohio community of Convoy, plans to resume the distributions unless the case is appealed, district Superintendent John Basinger said Thursday. Classes resume Aug. 24.
"We're excited that the ruling was in our favor," Basinger said. "We're cautiously optimistic that this is behind us."
Lower court decision
A 2002 ruling by U.S. District Judge James Carr of Toledo had stopped the school district from distributing material from churches and affiliated groups. The district had distributed those along with fliers from other nonprofit organizations, including the American Red Cross, 4-H Club and sports leagues, Basinger said.
The American Civil Liberties Union likely will appeal Thursday's ruling, said Scott Greenwood, an attorney who argued the case for the ACLU of Ohio. Greenwood represented a parent of two Crestview pupils who objected to the flier distribution, particularly to giving it to elementary school pupils.
"This decision is just wrong," Greenwood said.
Pupils' mailboxes were stuffed full of fliers, he said.
Carr had ruled that "impressionable" children could perceive the school's distribution of the fliers advertising religious activities as promoting religion.
But the appeals court said that because the pupils cannot participate in any of the advertised activities without their parents' permission, the relevant observers are the parents.
"Elementary school kids are not a public forum," Greenwood said. "The court mistakenly looked at the parents of the kids as the intended forum. The parents aren't the ones at school taking these fliers out of the mailbox."
School officials say they distribute the fliers as a community service and that excluding church-related programs discriminates against the religious community. School administrators said they have the right to distribute notices of religious programs that occur after school hours and off school property, without endorsing the events or messages.
The district had provided in-school Bible instruction for at least 30 years, but ended that practice after the lawsuit was filed in May 2001, Greenwood said.
"Until this case came along, there was no question that the school was intertwined impermissibly with religion," he said.