Student sues to distribute religious texts at school

\nMISSOURI — A 15-year-old high school student filed suit against\nher school district and former principal in August, saying the\nschool’s distribution policy for independent publications violates\nstudents’ right to free expression.

In the wake of last spring’s tragedy at Columbine High School,\nCrystal Patterson decided to pass out “Truth for Youth Bibles”\nat her middle school. But Northwest Valley School officials and\nsecurity guards told her she was not allowed to distribute the\nBibles. The same policy that prohibited her from distributing\nthe Bibles in middle school still applies now that she is in high\nschool.

The Northwest school district’s policy requires any materials\ndistributed by students on campus to be submitted to the superintendent\nfor review prior to distribution. In Patterson’s case, the superintendent\nrefused to allow her to distribute the bibles.

Patterson and her attorney, Mat Staver of the Liberty Counsel,\nsay the policy violates the First Amendment by putting prior restraint\non speech. Staver said the Supreme Court has ruled that written\nspeech has the same protections as verbal speech, and the district\nhas no right to limit its spontaneity. Staver also said requiring\nmiddle and high school students to seek out an official as inaccessible\nas a superintendent for prior approval has devastating implications\nfor their First Amendment rights.

“You’d have to actually go to wherever [the superintendent]\nis within the county and present the information to them,”\nStaver said. “Then you would have to wait for the superintendent\nto make his or her review and get it back to you. Basically, what\nthis ultimately does is it stops the distribution of literature.”\n