Let Student Preach, Judge Tells School

           SEATTLE (CN) – A high school student suspended for handing out religious tracts will have his record cleared after a federal judge found the school’s literature distribution policy unconstitutional.
     Michael Leal, a senior at Cascade High School in Everett, was suspended last year for handing out pamphlets titled “How to Know God” to fellow students and preaching on school grounds at lunch and during after-school events.
     Leal sued Everett Public Schools for violating his free speech rights. In his Nov. 17, 2014 complaint he says he is a Christian who “holds the conviction that he should communicate the claims of the Christian faith to others.”
     Leal said the district’s policy that allows distribution of materials only if they were written by a student or school club is unconstitutional.
     In a bench ruling Friday, U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly agreed, striking part of the district’s policy that requires that materials be “written and/or produced by students.” Zilly also vacated Leal’s suspension and removed disciplinary notices from his school record.
     Leal was awarded nominal damages of $1.
     Attorneys from the Pacific Justice Institute represented Leal.
     Brad Dacus, president of the Institute, said in a statement the ruling was “a well-deserved graduation present to our client. He should not have been suspended for simply handing other students gospel tracts.”
     The school district’s attorney, Michael Patterson with Patterson, Buchanan, Forbes & Leitch, said through his executive assistant that the district was pleased the bulk of its policy was upheld.
     “It is also pleased that the issue of religious discrimination was voluntarily dismissed from the case before it even came before the court for a ruling. The court explicitly found the district’s policy neutral as to the content of material being distributed. The district is considering its options regarding how it will proceed with respect to the court’s determination that materials do not need to be written and/or produced by students and its expungement of the plaintiff’s suspensions,” Patterson said.
     Leal will graduate on June 10.

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