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Published On: Thu, Oct 23rd, 2014

Pennsylvania school district changes policy in Valentine’s Day card free speech case

Nazareth Area School District has revised its policy restricting student religious expression in the wake of a federal lawsuit Alliance Defending Freedom filed on behalf of a 1st grade student and his parents. In a settlement agreement approved by a federal district court and resulting in a voluntary dismissal filed Wednesday, the school district acknowledged that it had changed its policy and would recognize that the First Amendment protects student religious expression.

valentines day card JOhn 316“Public schools ought to encourage, not suppress, the free exchange of ideas. That includes respecting a student’s freedom to include a Bible verse and a reference to God in a Valentine’s Day card,” said ADF Legal Counsel Matt Sharp. “We commend Nazareth Area School District for revising its speech policy so that it respects student religious expression.”

“Students do not abandon their constitutionally protected freedoms when they enter the schoolhouse gate,” added ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “This settlement ensures that this student and other students throughout the district will be free to engage in the expression of their ideas without censorship by school officials.”

In February, Floyd R. Shafer Elementary School prohibited a student from distributing St. Valentine’s Day cards to his classmates because the cards contained a note that mentioned God and included the Bible verse John 3:16 after a sentence about the history of St. Valentine’s Day. Floyd R. Shafer Elementary School Principal William Mudlock ordered the cards removed because of their religious nature and because they contained a Bible verse, telling the student’s parents that they could be “offensive” to others.

The lawsuit, J.A. v. Nazareth Area School District, filedwith the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, explained that the same federal court struck down an identically worded policy at another Pennsylvania school district in 2008. That court wrote that such policies “restrict what effectively amounts to all religious speech, which is clearly not permissible under the First Amendment.”

Ted Hoppe, one of nearly 2,500 private attorneys allied with ADF, served as local counsel in the case on behalf of the student.

 

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