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Published On: Sat, May 21st, 2016

Jonathan Morgan, 8-year-old, sues school after ban on “God”, “Jesus” & “Merry Christmas”

UPDATE: Five years later and elementary school students still have limited free speech because the administrations have immunity. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case and now the schools seem more extreme than ever. Would public outcry have forced the case to be evaluated? Maybe, maybe not. That said, it’s interesting to reflect.

A hearing is scheduled Monday before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans that could determine if students in elementary schools have the protections of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Thomas Elementary School Principal Lynn Swanson and Rasor Elementary School Principal Jackie Bomchill were sued for restricting student speech when it referenced “God” or “Jesus.”

The story begins in 2003 with a boy and his candy cane pens, although the actual lawsuit includes three other families and a more varied array of pencils, invitations, and green and red napkins.

According to the Liberty Institute, in the first incident, officials banning 8-year-old Jonathan Morgan from handing out candy canes with Jesus’ name on them to classmates at a school party.

Photo Brandon Jones

Photo Brandon Jones

“Then they confiscated a little girl’s pencils after school because they mentioned ‘God,'” the Institute reported.

But that’s not all, the group said.

“They even banned an entire classroom from writing ‘Merry Christmas’ on cards to our troops serving in Iraq.”

 

The school officials are arguing “that the First Amendment does not apply to elementary school students,” explains the appeal brief submitted by Liberty Institute.

They are claiming that the case is a dispute of “first impression,” – that is, the first time the question has been raised. Swanson and Bomchill are urging “that the First Amendment does not apply to elementary school students.”

“According to school officials, ‘neither the Supreme Court nor this Court has ever extended First Amendment ‘freedom of speech’ protection to the distribution of non-curricular materials in public elementary schools,'” the brief explains.

Liberty Institute asserts that “the First Amendment is not implicated by restrictions on student-to-student distribution of non-curricular materials by elementary school students to their classmates.”

Kelly Shackelford, the president and CEO of Liberty Institute, told WND the fundamental question in the disagreement is whether the appeals court will “strip away the First Amendment rights of kids and their parents in the schools.”

“This is really serious, very dangerous,” he said, noting it would be the highest level for such a decision in the nation, short only a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court.

“This is chilling. What this means if they have no First Amendment rights is that they have no right to have a viewpoint different from the government,” he said.

“If their parents wanted to protect them from punishment because they have a different view … they have no right to even protect them,” he said.

Shackleford said the school officials’ argument essentially is: “Let’s say we did engage in religious discrimination. We can do it.”

“If they win this case, they could silence 41 million American school kids and their parents,” the Institute explained.

From the lawsuit: Principal Swanson informed the Morgans that it was the practice, policy, and custom of the PISD that religious materials could not be distributed while on school property because of the religious viewpoint of the materials and that only secular materials and gifts could be distributed or displayed at the party.

In 2012, Liberty Institute filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court asking it to review the 5th Circuit’s decision on immunity. On June 11, 2012, the Supreme Court denied Liberty Institute’s petition to hear oral arguments.

photo Jennifer Moo via Flickr

photo Jennifer Moo via Flickr

About the Author

- Catherine "Kaye" Wonderhouse, a proud descendant of the Wunderhaus family is the Colorado Correspondent who will add more coverage, interviews and reports from this midwest area.

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