Students Sue School District Over Mural

The 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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