Supreme Court declines to hear Ariz. religious flier distribution case

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S.Supreme Court has left untouched a lower court’s ruling protecting acommunity member’s right to distribute leaflets on school grounds for areligious camp when it declined on Jan. 20 to hear an appeal by an Arizona school district.The May ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals forthe Ninth Circuit is binding in Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Nevada,California, Alaska, Hawaii and Arizona.Because of the Ninth Circuitruling, schools in those states cannot censor, for example, an article onChristianity that appears in a student newspaper that is notschool-sponsored.In 2000 the Scottsdale school district barred JosephHills, president of the group A Little Sonshine from Arizona, from distributingfliers to students advertising his religious summer camp. The American Centerfor Law and Justice, a public interest law firm in Washington, D.C., that fightsfor constitutional freedoms, filed a lawsuit on behalf of Hills, claiming thathis right to free speech was violated because other nonprofit organizations werepermitted to distribute their fliers.The Ninth Circuit found that bybarring Hills from distributing the flier, the school district violated hisfree-speech rights. But the court also decided that a school does not have todistribute materials that promote or ”proselytize” a religion.Mary Ellen Simonson, an attorney for the school district, said theappeal ”was an opportunity to get clarification for our client and schooldistricts throughout the country regarding literature distribution when itincludes religious content.”She said that there is a lack ofclarity in the Ninth Circuit’s decision about what the term proselytizingmeans.Simonson said the district is disappointed that the Supreme Courtdeclined to review its case.Walter Weber, an attorney from the ACLJrepresenting Hills said the case “was straightforward, so there was no need forthe courts to revisit the issue.”Weber said Hills and hisorganization are delighted by the Supreme Court’s decision, but notsurprised because the court only takes a small percentage of cases eachyear”The ball is really in the court of the school districtnow,” Weber said. Weber said there are a number of ways thedistrict can comply. For example, the school district could set limits on wherethe fliers can be handed out. He said the school district could also choose toban all fliers from being distributed.”No matter the program, theschool can’t say,

Hills v. Scottsdale Unified School District, 2003 WL 21197150 C.A.9 (Ariz.) 2003

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