KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A Kansas school district has been leveled with a lawsuit after officials at a local middle school allegedly prohibited a student from posting flyers because of their Biblical content.
The Christian legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) announced the lawsuit on Monday, which it filed on behalf of a seventh grade student at Robert E. Clark Middle School in Bonner Springs. The student, a female, is only being referred to as K.R. because she is a minor.
According to the complaint filed in federal court, K.R. had sought to post the flyers at the school this past September, which featured handwritten Bible verses such as John 3:16 and Romans 5:8. The Scriptural posters were meant to serve as a precursor to the annual prayer event “See You at the Pole,” which she hoped to promote with separate flyers later.
She posted a few flyers around the school without issue—that is, until she was confronted by a school counselor at a student dance.
“While standing around talking with several of her friends, K.R. was confronted by Ms. Chellie Bonebrake, a counselor at Clark Middle School,” the complaint explains. “Ms. Bonebrake forcefully told K.R. that the flyers K.R. had posted at the school were ‘illegal’ because they were a violation of the separation of church and state.”
Bonebrake consequently told the student that the flyers could not be posted on the walls or distributed to her classmates. All of K.R.’s homemade flyers were reportedly taken down by school officials that day and destroyed.
As a result, the student feared what would happen if she were to create and distribute flyers for See You at the Pole. She printed just a few handouts and gave them to her close friends in secret.
ADF states that because K.R. was afraid to promote the event because of the warning from Bonebrake, very few students joined her for See You at the Pole. The organization says that the student would like to invite her classmates to other events, but feels that she is being prevented from doing so.
District policy prohibits the distribution of “religious materials … on school grounds or in any attendance facility before, during, or after the school day or a school activity.” However, students may freely advertise or share information about secular topics.
ADF notes that other posters at the school were not censored, such as those that promoted school dances, and a poster of rapper Lil’ Wayne that read “Good kush and alcohol” was not disturbed.
“Public schools should encourage, not shut down, the free exchange of ideas,” ADF Legal Counsel Matt Sharp said in a news release about the matter. “The law on this is extremely clear: school policies cannot target religious speech for exclusion. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech for all students, regardless of their religious or political beliefs.”
“Marginalizing students of faith removes an important influence for good from the school community,” added Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “We hope the school district will revise its policy so that students can exercise their constitutionally protected freedoms.”