Group accuses Kansas school of free speech violation
An Arizona group has filed a federal lawsuit accusing a suburban Kansas City middle school of violating a student's First Amendment rights by prohibiting the student from handing out fliers promoting a prayer event.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian group based in Scottsdale, Ariz., that advocates for religious rights, contends a counselor at Robert E. Clark Middle School in Bonner Springs violated the student's rights to free speech and equal protection by refusing to allow the student to post fliers promoting the Sept. 25 "See You at the Pole" event, a national event in which teens pray around their school flagpoles.
The group contends in the lawsuit filed Nov. 26 in federal court in Kansas City, Kan., that the counselor told the student the fliers, which contained Bible verses, could not be posted or distributed at school because of their religious content. The ADF, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the student identified only as "K.R.," also said the district has a policy banning distribution of religious materials on school grounds but allows other types of materials to be posted and distributed.
"This denial of K.R.'s religious materials, while permitting secular posters, flyers, and materials from other students, constitutes viewpoint discrimination, which is unconstitutional in any type of form," the lawsuit said.
Dan Brungardt, superintendent for the Bonner Springs/Edwardsville schools, said Monday he had not seen or heard about the lawsuit. He also said the district had not received any complaints from parents or students about anything regarding posting fliers before the prayer event. Brungardt said the event was announced over the school's intercom system.
"We can't encourage students to go, but we did announce it," Brungardt said.
The district has a policy prohibiting distribution of religious materials on school grounds because "different entities request to distribute information to students constantly. If all entities who requested were allowed it would be disruptive to the school environment," Brungardt said in an email.
Doug Bonney, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, said he was not familiar with the lawsuit, but he questioned whether the counselor had the authority to stop the student from handing out the fliers. But Bonney said the school could be faulted if the student's posters were singled out because of their content.
"If in fact the school did prohibit the student from posting a religious message because it was religious, where a secular message would be allowed to stay up ... then the school might have some problems," Bonney said