COLORADO — Proponents of free speech in schools scoreda victory Monday, as U.S. District Judge Wiley Daniel ruled thatfamilies who decorated in-school memorial tiles with religiouscontent were within their First Amendment rights.
The tiles at issue commemorate the 12 students and one teacherwho were killed in the shootings at Columbine High School in Littletonon April 20, 1999. According to the decision in Fleming v.Jefferson County School District, 99-D1932 (2001), since theschool had invited members of the community to "help thehealing process and express themselves," the memorial tileswere part of a limited public forum. In such a forum, the courtstated, it is a violation of the First Amendment to curb religiousexpression.
The plaintiffs, a group of family and friends of shooting victimsDaniel Rohrbough and Kelly Fleming, voiced concerns that the school’sactions violated not only free speech, but the First Amendment’s"establishment clause" by showing hostility toward religion.
Jefferson County School officials argued that the plaintiff’sfreedom of speech protection did not allow them to disregard howthe school should be decorated.
In a press release, The Rutherford Institute — the organizationthat the represented the plaintiffs — called the decision a greatvictory. "Once a school opens public forum, they can no longerdiscriminate on the basis of what people have to say," therelease stated.