KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A school district in Kansas has revised its free speech policy after being sued by a student who allegedly had been banned from distributing Christian literature at her middle school.
As previously reported, the Christian legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed the lawsuit in December 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 due to the warning from Bonebrake, very few students joined her for See You at the Pole. The organization later filed suit.
Until now, district policy prohibited the distribution of “religious materials … on school grounds or in any attendance facility before, during, or after the school day or a school activity.” Students could freely advertise or share information about secular topics, as some did, such as a poster of rap artist Lil’ Wayne with the phrase “Good Kush and Alcohol.”
However, because of the lawsuit, the school district recently altered the free speech policy to allow the distribution of religious literature, given that rules may be established to control the time, place and manner of the activity. ADF has now dropped the legal challenge as a result.
“Public schools should encourage, not shut down, the free exchange of ideas,” said ADF Legal Counsel Matt Sharp. “For that reason, we commend the school district for revising its policy so that all students, regardless of their religious beliefs, can enjoy freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment. The law on this is very clear: public school policies cannot target religious speech for exclusion.”
“America’s public schools should recognize the constitutionally protected freedom of all students, regardless of their religious views,” added ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “We hope other districts will follow the lead of this school district and ensure that their policies also respect these freedoms.”