Advancing Religious Liberty
5/11/12 at 11:45 AM 15 Comments

ADF Defends the Right of Children to Live Their Faith

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Author: ADF President, CEO, and General Counsel Alan Sears

One of the most pernicious – and frankly, most ridiculous – ongoing assaults on religious freedom isn’t happening in the halls of Congress or on college campuses or even in the workplace. It’s happening every day in elementary schools around the country, where young children with no agenda whatsoever are being penalized simply for inviting their friends to church.

Last month, in Nederland, Texas, a third-grader at Hillcrest Elementary wanted to invite two friends to an AWANA (“Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed”) club meeting at his church. The children’s program includes singing, crafts, games, hearing a Bible story, and other related activities. Before giving out the handwritten invitations, the student’s parents asked permission from his teacher, who agreed to their request on the condition that the entire class be invited – in keeping with the school’s all-or-none policy, designed to ensure that no student feels left out.

When the student actually began handing out the invitations before class (during non-instructional time), the same teacher suddenly reversed course, telling the boy he couldn’t do that. The boy’s father e-mailed the teacher to find out what had changed, and was told that the principal had to review all invitations, and this principal had been told by the district superintendent not to let the student distribute the invitations. This, despite the fact that other students are freely permitted to distribute invitations to birthday parties and other events.

Faced with such clear (and seemingly arbitrary) viewpoint discrimination, ADF attorneys filed a federal lawsuit on April 3 on behalf of the student. Houston attorney G. Scott Fiddler, one of nearly 2,100 attorneys in the ADF alliance, is serving as local counsel.

Just a few weeks earlier, in Temple Terrace, Florida, the mother of a fourth-grader at Roland H. Lewis Elementary joined other members of the student’s church in organizing several Easter egg hunts for children and their parents in the community. At each hunt, children would look for eggs, play games, have snacks and candy, and hear the biblical story of Easter.

But when the student asked permission to hand out fliers for the event during non-instructional time, his principal wouldn’t allow it – again, though the school routinely allows other invitations.

On May 3, Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the student, challenging the two school board policies as unconstitutional.

“The two board policies are unconstitutional because they ban non-disruptive student-to-student speech based solely on its religious content,” said ADF Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “Public schools should encourage, not shut down, the free exchange of ideas. Marginalizing students of faith removes an important influence for good from the school community, and removing their voice sends a message to all students that religion is something to be ashamed of.”

Allied Attorney David Gibbs is serving as local counsel in the case. Please be in prayer for him, and for all our staff and allied attorneys, as they defend children who want nothing more than to live and gracefully share their faith. To some, these cases might seem trivial – but at ADF, we remember that it was a “trivial” complaint about classroom prayer that led to its ban nationwide by the Supreme Court. There really is so much at stake in these issues. Join us in praying today.

This post originally appeared here.

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