Evangelical Group Loses Fight for School Flyers

     ST. LOUIS (CN) – A Missouri school district did not violate the constitutional rights of an evangelical group by restricting flyers it wanted to distribute to students, the 8th Circuit ruled.




     The Victory Through Jesus Sports Ministry Foundation, which hosts summer camps that “use sports as evangelism” for children of all faiths, said its First and 14th Amendment rights were violated by the backpack flyer program at Lee’s Summit R-7 School District.
     Over the years, Lee’s Summit has let nonprofits provide informational flyers to be sent home in the backpacks of elementary school districts. As the district grew, however, flyer requests became burdensome and triggered complaints from parents.
     The district adopted new policies designed to limit the amount of informational flyers sent home in children’s backpacks
     In 2008 and 2009, Victory missed the fall deadlines to promote its summer camp through take-home flyers. It sued the school district in October 2009, claiming religious discrimination.
     The Western District of Missouri tossed Victory’s claims for injunctive relief and damages on the merits, finding that that Lee’s Summit did not have a policy or practice of permitting the general public to distribute flyers at its schools, that its sole purpose in adopting the restrictions was to limit the volume of promotional materials sent home with students and that it did not take religious orientation into account when deciding to limit distribution of Victory’s flyers.
     A three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit affirmed the District Court’s ruling.
     “Victory contends that it was unreasonably excluded from the Backpack Flyer program,” Judge James B. Loken wrote Friday. “The evidence at trial established that Victory was not excluded from the forum, properly defined. Its access was restricted. Victory’s first request for flyer distribution in the spring of 2008 was denied as untimely. But it was immediately granted access to the District’s website, which it used to promote a successful soccer camp that summer. That alternative avenue of communication, without more, made the limited restriction constitutionally reasonable.”

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