Associated Press, Mar. 18, 2003
By TRUDY TYNAN, ASSOCIATED PRESS
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) – A federal judge ruled Tuesday that a high school cannot suspend students for handing out candy canes with religious messages.
U.S. District Court Judge Frank Freedman said a policy at Westfield High School that prohibits the distribution of printed material on school grounds without permission violated the students’ First Amendment rights. The case stems from a request by members of the school’s Bible club who asked the principal just before Christmas if they could hand out candy with religious messages. The principal said no, but the students handed them out anyway.
Six of the seven students who received one-day, in-school suspensions took part in the case. The suspensions were not served.
Claire Thompson, a lawyer for the school, argued the principal had the right to review the messages because the club was a school-sponsored activity. Thompson said the school will revise its policies.
“We hope the plaintiffs will work with us, rather than against us, so we can put together a policy that is consistent with the judge’s decision,” Thompson said.
A religious civil liberties group based in Orlando, Fla., represented the students. Mat Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, said they were ecstatic over the ruling.