Pennsylvania school district bans distribution of materials by private groups

After the American Civil Liberties Union challenged a religious study group flier distributed in Altoona School District, the rural school board in February banned distribution of all outside materials by private groups.\n\nThe ACLU objected in September 2001 when Altoona required its teachers to hand out religious brochures in school advocating a release-time program for the nearby Child Evangelism Fellowship. Vic Walczak, executive director of the Pittsburgh chapter of the ACLU, said such a requirement violates the separation of church and state.\n\nRelease-time programs allow students to leave public schools for a portion of the day to receive religious education elsewhere, and are common in Pennsylvania.\n\nAltoona consulted the Florida-based Liberty Counsel, a religious advocacy group, which said that since the district allowed distribution of other superintendent-approved materials — such as fliers from the Boy Scouts of America — the religious brochures must also be allowed.