Columbine wins reprieve in religious tiles dispute

In and out of the courtroom, faith-based groups and families continue to battle schools to expand students’ rights to religious expression.

After failing to comply with a federal judge’s order, Columbine High School in Colorado won a stay in a case involving the display of religious-themed memorial tiles painted by the families of two victims killed in the April 1999 shootings at the school.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit granted a request on Nov. 6 by the school to delay the tile-mounting deadline. The original deadline was set by U.S. District Judge Wiley Daniel in Fleming v. Jefferson County School District, 2001 WL 1359554 (D. Colo. Nov. 1, 2001).

Daniel’s ruling stated that the school district violated the families’ First Amendment rights of free speech and religious expression by removing the tiles from Columbine High School’s walls two years ago. He ordered the Littleton school to hang the tiles by Nov. 4. The school district refused.

Jefferson County Public Schools had sought the stay while it appeals the ruling. In the appeal, the school claims the display of the tiles represents a violation of the separation of church and state.

The Rutherford Institute, the group representing the friends and family of shooting victims Daniel Rohrbough and Kelly Fleming, claims the school’s actions violate free speech and religious freedom.

In Wisconsin, the Cushing County School Board adopted a policy that places the same guidelines on the distribution of all non-school sponsored literature, regardless of whether it is religious or secular.

The school adopted the policy after the Liberty Counsel filed suit on behalf of the parents of 8-year-old Morgan Nyman, who was not allowed to pass out religious candy and literature to classmates.

In another Liberty Counsel case in Michigan, the Houghton-Portage Township School District agreed to drop its ban on the distribution of religious literature on school grounds, which had been the focus of a lawsuit by Houghton High School students Valerie Snyder and Daniel Duefrene. The students were told not to distribute Christian materials in school.