Parents of a second grade student at North Hill Elementary School in Des Moines, Washington, have confronted school officials about penalizing their daughter for sharing her faith with classmates on the playground.
According to Christina Compagnone, an associate counsel with the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), the parents say their daughter has been sent to the principal’s office “no less than 10 times since Jan. 1.” Further, school staff has begun stopping the girl to inspect her backpack for crosses, tracts or other Christian literature before allowing her to enter the school each morning.
The girl’s mother reportedly witnessed her daughter’s backpack being searched one morning while dropping her off. The mother went to the principal for an explanation and was told that her daughter could not pass out crosses or tracts to other students because it was “upsetting parents.”
“Christian tracts were being treated as contraband,” said Compagnone, “as if speaking about Jesus were an illicit drug.”
On behalf of the parents, ACLJ sent a letter to the school explaining First Amendment protections and their application to students in public school. But the principal refused to budge, stating that school policy forbids the distribution of materials that “cause a disruption or interfere with school activities.”
Compagnone pointed out that while the Highline School District (of which North Hill Elementary School is a part) has a freedom of expression policy, it only prohibits the distribution of written materials that cause a disruption of school activities “in an assembly or classroom setting”—not outside on the playground.
Supreme Court precedent as decided in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, an Iowa case, also made it clear that First Amendment protections extend to students in public schools. The ruling specified that school officials who want to censor speech need to show that permitting the speech significantly interferes with the school’s ability to function.
“Stating ‘because it is upsetting parents’ as the reason certainly does not meet this constitutional threshold,” Compagnone said.
The school principal did eventually agree to allow the girl to talk about Jesus “as long as other students consent to the conversation.” But ACLJ argued that this is discriminatory because the girl is the only student who is required to ask permission before speaking with her peers.
“We recently sent a Demand Letter to the school,” Compagnone revealed, “and if the school does not take immediate corrective action, we are ready to file in court if necessary.”
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