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Judge Blocks School From Banning Religious Flyers

(CN) - An elementary school can't bar a student from handing out invitations to church events at school, a federal judge in Detroit ruled, because "such a blanket prohibition upon a student's distribution of materials on the basis of religious viewpoint is not constitutionally permissible."

Chief U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen sided with second-grade student J.S. and his mother, who argued that the Holly Area School District's ban of religious materials violated their First Amendment rights.

J.S. brought 25 invitations to a Cornerstone Church summer camp to Patterson Elementary School and began placing them in cubbyholes for his classmates. His teacher stopped him, allegedly explaining that "anything that comes from a church cannot be distributed at all in school."

The student's mother, Katharine Smith, contacted school officials, who reiterated that children and adults were not allowed to distribute religious materials at school.

The school in Holly, Mich., had a "flyer forum" through which outside groups could reach students with information on, for example, gymnastics, karate or Girl Scouts. First the principal had to approve the materials, and then teachers could place the flyers in students' cubbyholes.

But superintendent Kent Barnes said Smith's request to the use the flyer forum "cannot be implemented" because of the school's ban on religious materials.

Judge Rosen said "such a blanket prohibition upon a student's distribution of materials on the basis of religious viewpoint is not constitutionally permissible."

"The school district cannot reasonably be viewed as having imposed time, place, or manner restrictions upon J.S.'s distribution of these materials; instead, it has flatly forbidden him from giving such materials to his classmates anywhere on school grounds at any time during the school day," Rosen wrote.

Though the school claimed to have axed its flyer forum, even for birthday invitations, Smith claimed her kindergartner has continued to receive flyers from outside groups, including materials for a volleyball clinic, a basketball league, Lego classes and community Halloween activities.

"If the flyer forum has been reopened ... the defendant district cannot permissibly deny Mrs. Smith access to this forum on the sole ground that she seeks to distribute materials promoting religious activities," Rosen concluded.

He gave Smith 10 days to propose the terms and scope of a preliminary injunction, and gave the district seven days "to lodge any objections."

"Upon review of plaintiffs' proposed order and defendants' objections, the court will enter an appropriate order awarding preliminary injunctive relief," Rosen wrote.

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