(CN) - The 5th Circuit upheld a Texas school district's rules on when students can hand out religious materials, including Christian-themed candy canes and pencils stating "Jesus is the reason for the season."
The federal appeals court in New Orleans dismissed a challenge to the Plano Independent School District's rules, which allow students to distribute religious material before and after school, at three annual parties, during recess and at designated tables during school hours. Middle- and high-school students can also hand out religious items in the hallways and during their lunch periods.
The school district in suburban Dallas modified its policy in 2005 after four families of students sued, claiming their children had been unconstitutionally barred from giving out "Jesus is the reason for the season" pencils, tickets to religious shows, and candy canes with cards describing their Christian origin.
Some Christians believe candy canes were invented as a symbol of Jesus' life and death. Their "J" shape allegedly stands for "Jesus," though it's also claimed to represent the staff of the "good shepherd." The three stripes are reportedly Jesus' blood, with the large stripe representing the blood he shed on the cross.
With the district's new rules in effect, the families moved for summary judgment.
The district court found their claims moot, but ultimately upheld the policy.
Though the 5th Circuit disagreed that the case was moot, it upheld the revised 2005 policy as "reasonable and facially constitutional."
"[T]he regulations at issue are content neutral, and the District has a significant legitimate interest that is furthered by the regulations," Judge Patrick Higginbotham wrote for the three-judge panel. "The regulations are aimed at providing a focused learning environment for its students."
He continued: "[R]estrictions on distribution of materials by elementary students in hallways and the cafeteria are intended to facilitate the movements of students between classes and at lunch and to reduce littering."
Judge Higginbotham added that students have "ample alternative channels of communication."
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