Girl sues to distribute religious fliers at elementary school.

Now, this one is a stickler for me.  In this CNN article a mother and her daughter are suing to allow the girl to tell her fellow students about Jesus Christ:

The flier, about the size of a greeting card, starts out: “Hi! My name is Michaela and I would like to tell you about my life and how Jesus Christ gave me a new one.” The flier mentions five ways in which Jesus had come into her life.

“This is nothing less than viewpoint discrimination,” said Mat Staver, an attorney and executive director of Liberty Counsel, an Orlando, Florida-based conservative legal group that is representing Bloodgood.

According to the lawsuit, Liverpool officials said Michaela could not distribute it because her flier was religious and that there was “a substantial probability” that other parents and students might misunderstand and presume that the district was “endorsing” the religious statements in the flier.

At first glance, it seemed to me to be the right decision on the part of the school.  But then I thought:  should they allow her to wear a t-shirt to school that said “Ask Me About My Life With Jesus”?  Sure, that’s freedom of expression, just as students ought to be able to wear Kerry t-shirts. 

So what’s the difference?

It’s something about the fliers that bothers me.  I’d object to letting a student hand out fliers campaigning for any other religion.  Would I object to fliers addressing a political issue?  Again, probably not.  So what is it about the combination of religious proselytizing and the distribution of fliers that bugs me, that seems like more than a free speech issue?

If you can figure it out, please let me know. 

36 thoughts on “Girl sues to distribute religious fliers at elementary school.

  1. Maybe it is because we have that wonderful law that tells us that the state and the church have to be separate.
    Handing out a card that said “defend america defeat bush” is talking about the state (or country) in a state facility, no conflict. Where as handing out cards about god and jesus (otherwise known as long haired sufer dude) is bringing the church into the state, which is suppose to be separate.

  2. The only real difference I can think of between wearing an “Ask Me About My Life With Jesus” t-shirt and the handing out of fliers of the sort Michaela wants to pass around is the fact that one form is passive (wearing a shirt) and the other is active (actually asking people to take a flier).

    I don’t think that difference in itself is enough to justify not allowing this girl to pass out her fliers. In my opinion, based on some similar cases I’ve read about in the past, about all the school should be asking of her is that A) she only hand them out during times when classes aren’t in session (e.g. between classes, on the bus, etc.) and B) that she add a disclaimer to the flier indicating that it is not endorsed or produced by the school in question. That second one might seem silly, but it would address the school’s concern of confusion over the source.

    As long as she’s not harassing other students to take a flier if they don’t want to I don’t see why she shouldn’t be allowed to hand them out.

  3. Double dipping to address Rachel as she responded just before me:

    Michaela is a student, not a member of the school staff, and as such isn’t violating the separation of church and state merely by asking her fellow students to take a flier. It would be different if it were a teacher or administrator handing out the fliers in school as it then gives the appearance of a government institution promoting one religious viewpoint over the rest, but students aren’t bound by that rule and could claim an infringement of their free speech rights.

  4. I remember having a very active Christian group at my high-school, they had a club, but that was about the extent of their activities. I can’t help but wonder what would happen if a group of Atheists tried to form a club, or if a single Atheist wanted to hand out fliers about how not believing in god changed their life…

  5. that’s a very interesting point that cailin brought up. i can’t imagine the number of people who would be up in arms about an atheist handing out such fliers. people would probably picket the school, heh.

  6. Back when I was in high school all those years ago it wasn’t allowed to pass out fliers at all without having it approved by the schools administration.  It didn’t matter what the content was.

    If passing out those fliers is just a violation of a standing rule in that school, then this isn’t a religious issue, but a freedom of speech issue.  The courts generally side with the schools on these.

    But if it is allowed, then you can look forward to a new marketing cow when merchants start paying kids to pass out fliers in schools between classes.

  7. I think she should be allowed to distribute the flier, provided that other students are allowed to distribute their fliers. Also, the content of the message, or if the flier points to a particular talk or event, must be one that do not promote discrimination either through sexual orientation, race, religion, etc.

    However, my only concern relates to the age of the person. The girl is quite young and so would be her classmates. Therefore it is could be argued that at such a young age a child’s reasoning is not fully formed and could be subjected to brainwashing.

    Perhaps if there is clear guidelines, students are required to obtain approval from the school. Thus the fliers must be submitted to the school. Rules relating to hate speech must be clear. Personally, I feel that engagment provides one with better understanding and reduction of tensions.

    Of course, my view could be tainted since I grew up in schools that allow for religious clubs and prayer. Well, it was a Catholic School. But one that is surprisingly progressive. Its religious education class gives one a crash course in all religions. I am not even sure if what they did was legal but the school actually showed pornography. It was done to demystify it and to allow one to talk about it and have a proper class discussion. shhh we were not suppose to tell anyone but then again no one can identify the school based on this post.

  8. I think the difference isn’t one that involves the separation of church and state or even the activity (vs. passivity).  I think it’s because people take religion a lot more personally than they do politics.

    Someone passing out fliers – specifically fliers that you don’t agree with – or wearing a shirt doesn’t make a difference.  By sharing their belief, they are (potentially) telling you that yours is stupid.  Thus, people more easily find themselves “up in arms”.

    Probably a bad thing on at least one count: Can you imagine the changes that would sweep this country if people cared about politics as much as they did about their (freedom of) religion?  Might make for a nice change.

  9. Les, a few months back you pointed us to the ACLU guidelines on Religion in the Public Schools. I believe what you said here falls in line with ACLU statements on Student Prayers (para. 1), Official Participation or Encouragement of Religious Activity (4) and Distribution of Religious Literature (9).

    Would the hypothetical t-shirt be included in the paragraph on Student Garb (17)? That one is a little less clear to me, but I think not.

  10. Would it be okay if the girl came to school with a shirt that had a big-ass swastika on it?

    How about if she started passing out fliers that said, “Hi! My name is Michaela and I would like to tell you about my life and how the Klan gave me a new one.”

    Would that be okay?

  11. Just a note: Not sure where to put this, but I just thought I’d say this is Cailin, finally registered.

    And to keep this post on topic: They say this child is in fourth grade… so I’m wondering who’s idea these pamphlets were? Granted, a fourth grader has the mental capacity, but I think it’s much more likely that the mother encouraged her child. I highly doubt it was the child’s idea to sue the school.

  12. It’s usually situations like this that lead districts to try and prevent any fliers from being passed out.  Some folks are going to be offended by Klan or Nazi fliers, other by Christian fliers, others by Atheist fliers, others by Wiccan fliers.

  13.  

    Some folks are going to be offended by …

     

    And that is why either they need to allow them all or ban them all. If it is okay to distribute fliers about the Christian mythos then it must be equally okay to distribute fliers from other groups—no matter how much we find their message repugnant.

    That’s what freedom of speech is all about.

    Personally, I’m all for distributing that junk. Where else are the kiddies supposed to learn about close-minded hate groups and how to deal with them? This is a perfect opportunity.

    Some might say that they don’t want little Johnny exposed, but consider that it is much better to grow up with knowledge than ignorance, unless one plans on living in podunk forever.

  14. That’s what freedom of speech is all about.
    Personally, I’m all for distributing that junk. Where else are the kiddies supposed to learn about close-minded hate groups and how to deal with them? This is a perfect opportunity.
    Some might say that they don’t want little Johnny exposed, but consider that it is much better to grow up with knowledge than ignorance, unless one plans on living in podunk forever.

    So right.  It bothers me no end that school kids do not have freedom of speech, that controversy is not allowed in schools, and that (As John Allen Paulos once said) the definition of a “good student” seems to be one who remains seated and is quiet.

    Let’s see, no freedom of speech or thought for the first 18 years of your life, and then in the workplace such freedoms are severely curtailed (because we just can’t have that).

    The reason people just can’t “deal” with diversity is that they’ve never been given the opportunity.  Free speech is in terrible danger today.

  15. Being the wicked person I am, I would probably turn any religious flyer I got into some sort of creative origami. I need to work out the folds for the single finger salute, so I can hand my creation back to them, with my opinion enfolded thereon.

    Sunfell

  16. Bry,

    Would it be okay if the girl came to
    school with a shirt that had a big-ass swastika on it?

    How about if she started passing out fliers that said, “Hi! My name is Michaela and I would like to tell you about my life and how the Klan gave me a new one.

  17. Most schools that I’ve been around have a policy that forbids students and faculty from distributing fliers of any sort.  In Michaela’s case, if she can’t get her message across in a more personal manner then she probably isn’t at a point at her life where she should proselytizing to anyone.

    I see a religious flier in the same context as and advertisement.  Would they allow Michaela to spread fliers saying how her daddy’s tattoo parlor has improved her life, or the line of make-up her mom sells so she can be a stay-at-home mother?  I think not.

    She should be free to carry the fliers and speak to anyone wishing to hear her message and if they’re interested she can give them a flier, but handing out a flier as a means of proselytizing is unacceptable as a form of free speech in this particular instance.  Let her parents do their own dirty work.

  18. i went to college at the university of minnesota.  there were all sorts of ‘people with a cause’ distribution fliers all the time.  i rather enjoyed telling them my opinion in return.

    the u of m is a public school were people are allowed to express their opinions.  i don’t see a public high school as being much different, but i would draw the line at junior high.  kids so young seem like they would be tools for their parents, expressing their parent’s views instead of their own.

  19. Reasons I left an actual highschool for an Independant Studies program that most think less of, but I actually think more of:  All of the above. 

    I’m amazed at the openmindedness of the people who work in the ‘bad school’ in town…though that’s probably because they’re there as more of an outreach to the more misfortunate/uneducated/whatever. When they could get the same salary at a school where they didn’t have to put up with nearly the shit they do.  I’m happy, and once you get out of highschool and into a college, no one really cares about your diploma anyway.  wink

  20. I’m getting closer to figure out a personal answer. In a nutshell, I want to keep schools free of ads for life-changing products – and I consider e.g. hate speech and religion to be such.

  21. So what is it about the combination of religious proselytizing and the distribution of fliers that bugs me, that seems like more than a free speech issue?

    If you can figure it out, please let me know.

    Oddly enough, I had to figure out what was really going on with me the other day when I pulled up to my daughter’s school and saw a sea of white crosses around the flagpole.

    In my opinion, Les, this disturbance happens because we have developed a sore spot over years of in-your-face-and-down-your-throat religious proselytizing. It’s comparable to a person who has been abused. Walk up behind that person too fast, and that person will flinch.

    What makes you cool is that you think about it and are even willing to admit publicly that you are wondering about it. (Also my opinion.)

    My opinion on the subject is that, once again, this is far better than the complete annihilation of religious expression or the opposite, which is in-your-face-and-down-your-throat religious proselytizing. In this situation, given what you said:

    A) she only hand them out during times when classes aren’t in session (e.g. between classes, on the bus, etc.) and B) that she add a disclaimer to the flier indicating that it is not endorsed or produced by the school in question.

    It leaves no room for confusion and gives her fellow students a choice. They can ask her about it or not. I see it no different from attempting to engage her peers in religious discussion, which she ought to have the right to do.

  22. I find it rather disconcernting that a parent would place their little kid in this position.  That mom is totally whack, in my opinion.

  23. It’s not beyond possibility that this undertaking is something the child did decide to do on her own. It’s not unheard of.

  24. If a basic tenet of your religion is to try to bring as many people into it as possible, I can see why they’d want her to do it at school.  She’s probably being told that she’s saving her classmates.  She won’t understand that many nonbelievers see it as obnoxious.

  25. Yeah, I agree, GeekMom.  When I was still religious, I felt so miserably sad that my loved ones would go to hell.  It just didnt seem fair, and I felt that if I could just get them to see the light, then we could be together forever.  But this unfairness was also what eventually led me to renounce my faith.  We’ll still be together forever, it’s just that forever is a lot shorter than I thought it would be…

  26. We’ll still be together forever, it’s just that forever is a lot shorter than I thought it would be…

    On the bright side, you can spend that time enjoying being with them instead of the distance that results from proselytizing.  grin

  27. I should have said >one< of the things that made me renounce my faith…

    Anyway, I mean that it’s forever for me.  I will be with them in one way or another until one of us dies.  And really, they will stay in my heart until I die, so my forever is until then.  I find it so frustrating that I won’t see what happens in the future.  The world is such a curious place!

  28. You go, John! 

    The thing is, when the believers die, they won’t realize at the end that they’re wrong, because they won’t be there to know it.  And I won’t be there to taunt them, either.  Which I think is a lot better than the “Christians” imagining themselves peering down from heaven at the poor heathens writhing in eternal torment …

  29. As I understand it, many people who don’t believe God loves them will continue as they are now, because to them, being with God wouldn’t be “paradise.”  If one has spent this existence without acknowledging His existence, I don’t think He’ll deny them that choice if there is a next.  He makes this existence more joyful for me, and if I haven’t understood the next one, as GeekMom mentioned, I won’t be any the wiser.

    I hope, I’ll be enjoying God so much that (even though I don’t understand it now because now it makes me very sad) I won’t feel sad over anyone who’s not there.

  30. Ahh… Americans are SO indecisive. All the freedom of speech has allowed a perfect 50-50% for everything. Episode 408 “Chef goes Nanners” of Southpark is your solution. If you’d like to download it, mrtwig might be your best option (or if you like, I can set up a torrent for you to download).

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