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Fifth Grader Loses Suit Over Religious Ornaments

CINCINNATI (CN) - The 6th Circuitdismissed the claims of a fifth-grade student and his parents, who sueda middle schoolprincipal for allegedly violating the student's free-speech rights by refusing to let him sell candy canes ornaments withreligious cardsat a simulated marketplace.

Each year, fifth graders at Handley School in Saginaw, Mich., participate in an exercise called "Classroom City," designed to expose students to community life, which culminates in a three-day marketplace in the school gym, where students make, sell and buy goods with faux currency.

At his mother's suggestion, Joel Curry made Christmas tree ornaments in the shape of candy canes using pipe cleaners and beads. Joel's father offered to make cards attached to the ornaments explaining how the candy cane can be viewed as a symbol of Christianity. Joel submitted his idea to the teacher without including the cards, but attached them to his ornaments on the first day of the event.

Principal Irene Hensinger heard that Joel was "selling religious items" and limited him to selling only the ornaments, even though the cards did not violate Classroom City's rules. Though Joel received an A for the project, his parents filed a lawsuit claiming Hensinger had violated their son's First Amendment rights.

The circuit ruled that the school was constitutionally allowed to restrict Joel's expression because it had "legitimate pedagogical concerns" that it might offend other students, particularly after Joel's classmate and business partner, Siddartha Reddy, designed his own product after deciding that "nobody wants to hear about Jesus."

The court upheld summary judgment for the principal, ruling that there was no constitutional violation. See ruling.

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