DAYTON, Ohio — Parents have sued a suburban school district because a kindergarten teacher stopped their daughter from distributing bags of jellybeans with an attached prayer to her classmates.
Allen and Sheila Wuebben of suburban Kettering say the school’s policy of prohibiting students from distributing religious literature in the classroom violates their daughter Madison’s rights to freedom of speech and religion.
In a lawsuit filed on Feb. 6, the Wuebbens asked U.S. District Judge Thomas Rose to allow their daughter to distribute the candy and religious message, plus “nominal damages in the amount of $1.”
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The lawsuit lists the school district of 7,200 students, its board of education and Superintendent Robert Mengerink as defendants.
Mengerink defended the school’s action.
“We think young, impressionable children are not capable of distinguishing between the independent actions of their peers and those of the school district,” he said. “My concern is, Can a kindergarten child discern the difference between a friend’s opinion about religion and that it wasn’t coming from the school or the teacher?”
He said school officials would allow Madison to hand out the jellybean prayer on the playground, on buses and after classes.
According to the lawsuit, Madison sought permission from her teacher, Angela Helwig, to distribute “The Jelly Bean Prayer” to her Orchard Park Elementary School classmates before last Easter.
The prayer’s first two lines are, “Red is for the blood He gave, Green is for the grass He made.”
Helwig denied the girl’s request and called her parents to “inform them that it was against the school’s policy to allow students to distribute religious literature in the classroom,” the lawsuit states.
Allen Wuebben met with a school official and was advised that Madison would be permitted “to distribute objects in the classroom, including jellybeans, provided no religious message was attached to such objects.”
The lawsuit says the Wuebbens “are adherents of the Christian faith and sincerely believe that their religion requires them to tell others about Jesus Christ.”
Denying their daughter that right demonstrates “hostility toward religion” in violation of the Constitution, the lawsuit claims.
The family’s attorney, Thomas W. Condit of Milford, describes himself in the lawsuit as participating for the Rutherford Institute of Charlottesville, Va.
That organization is appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court a similar case on behalf of Dana Walz and her son Daniel, an elementary school student in Egg Harbor Township, N.J.
In that case, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in August sided with school officials who denied the boy permission to hand out pencils to his classmates with the imprint “Jesus loves the little children” and candy canes with a religious story attached.