actions of a Wisconsin principal who banned students from distributing
Christian literature and censored a Bible club painting was asked
to be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Two club students
at George Tremper Senior High School who wanted to paint a wall mural
featuring a heart, two doves, an open Bible, and a large cross is
involved in the case known as Gernetzke v. Kenosha Unified School
District No. 1. With the
exception of the cross, the Bible Club’s mural was approved by Principal
Chester Pulaski, whose school had invited all student groups to submit
designs for murals in a school hallway.
Since the cross is a Christian symbol, inclusion would invite
lawsuits against the school, as well as demands from other student
groups, such as Satanic or neo-Nazi groups, to allow their groups
to display similar murals stated Pulaski.
The suit against
the school was brought by the two students who said the Equal Access
Act was violated by exclusion of the cross.
Also they alleged that their rights to free exercise of religion
were violated by the exclusion of the cross and Pulaski’s refusal
to allow distribution of religious literature.
In both cases, the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled
against the students.
The case could have
far reaching ramifications says Eric Stanley, an attorney with the
Florida-based Liberty Counsel. Stanley
says, “In this case, the school district was hiding behind the fact
that they didn’t have a policy on literature distribution.
And we’ve asked the Supreme Court to say regardless of whether
you have a policy or not, if you deny a student the right to distribute
literature-which is protected under the First Amendment-you’re going
to have to be liable for the that.”
The case has a good
chance of making it to the Supreme Court’s docket says Stanley. He says, “This case presents actually two different
splits among the circuit courts.
One of the splits being whether or not the Equal Access Act
allows a school administrator to deny equal access to student club
just because of fear of distribution…The other issue is regarding
a school’s policy on literature distribution, whether a school can
be held liable if they have a policy or if they don’t have a policy.”
As early as April, the decision from the court on whether or
not it will take the case could come says Stanley.
Claiming that the
literature could not be handed out since it would appear the school
was promoting Christianity, the principal denied a student’s request
to distribute religious literature to other students during class
time in another incident.
(“Equal Access for
Christian Clubs at Issue in Lawsuits,” AgapePress, February 22, 2002)
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