(CN) – Just one family can pursue claims against a school district that barred children from passing out Christian-themed candy cane pens and other religious gifts, a federal judge ruled.
Jonathan Morgan and his parents alone provided sufficient notice of their claims as required by state civil procedures. Three other families do not have a claim under the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, U.S. District Judge Richard Schell.
In a February report and recommendations, U.S. Magistrate Judge Don Bush had been more lenient. He said the Morgans and two other families could advance claims.
The case dates back to 2004 when the Morgans, Shells, Vershers and Wades filed a federal complaint against Plano Independent School District and two of its principals.
In December 2003, Morgan was barred from distributing pens shaped like candy canes with a Christian message at Thomas Elementary School. That school also barred Michaela Wade from passing out pencils bearing the words “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” at a 2001 winter party.
Hughston Elementary and W.H.L. Wells Elementary School blocked Kevin and Michael Shell from passing out tickets to events at the Prestonwood Baptist Church. The Rasor Elementary School blocked Stephanie Versher from passing out pencils inscribed with “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.”
The court bifurcated the case, separating the claims against the district and the principals.
After a full panel review, the 5th Circuit ruled in September 2011 that the principals had qualified immunity. A separate majority also found, however, that their conduct was unconstitutional.
Two years earlier, the New Orleans-based court upheld the school district’s modified policy on when students could distribute religious materials. The court said the policy, which the district revised in 2005, was “reasonable and facially constitutional.”
When U.S. Magistrate Judge Don Bush addressed the case in February, he said all the families but Wade could proceed with claims over the district’s application of its 2004 policy.