Religious Freedom Sought in Schools

Article excerpt

Byline: Andrea Billups

Two schools districts, one in Michigan and another in Wisconsin, are changing their policies on distribution of religious literature after they were sued by Christian students who claim they were denied their right to share their faith at school.

The federal lawsuits are the latest of a growing number of legal challenges that have been filed nationwide against school systems over issues of freedom of speech and religion on school grounds.

"There are more and more cases going on like this these days," said Erik Stanley, litigation counsel at Liberty Counsel, a civil liberties law practice in Orlando, Fla., which represented students in both cases.

"I think a lot of it revolves around the fact that there are a number of misconceptions regarding what students' rights are in the public schools," Mr. Stanley said. "For some reason school administrators seem to be under the assumption that religion has no place in the public schools, and that means students have no business in bringing their religion to public schools. That is certainly not the case.

"A student as a private citizen has a right to religion and freedom of speech."

In Michigan, two high school students, Valerie Snyder, a senior who has graduated, and Daniel Duefrene, now a junior, filed a federal lawsuit in May against the Houghton-Portage Township School District. Their suit charged that the district's policy governing religious literature distribution was unconstitutional.

The policy stated: "The distribution of any religious materials, bound or unbound, is prohibited on school grounds or in any attendance facility before, during or after the school day or a school activity." The policy defined "religious materials" as any versions of the Bible, translations of the Septuagint and the Apocrypha, Torah, Koran or any other similar religious books of faith, pamphlets, sectarian or denomination books, tracts, papers or other such material including pictures, symbols, crosses, statues or icons.

According to the lawsuit, the students and several other classmates attempted to distribute Campus Crusade Survival Kits, created by the Campus Crusade for Christ organization, at Houghton High School on Nov. …