Wednesday, May 18, 2011

FREE Speech in School Attacked:Saying "Jesus" is wrong?

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.

The case arose in the Plano Independent School District in Texas where 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."

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.

"Back Fired," by William J. Federer, shows how the faith that gave birth to tolerance is no longer tolerated!

"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 dispute went to district court then to a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit where school officials' efforts to have the complaint rejected because of their "immunity" failed.

Now the appeals court has agreed to an en banc hearing in which 17 judges will listen to arguments and decide the dispute.

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."

But 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.

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