Supreme Court will not hear N.J. student’s case involving distribution rights

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. SupremeCourt declined to review the case of a New Jersey student whose elementaryschool denied him permission to distribute religious-themed gifts to hisclassmates. The Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case let standa lower court’s ruling that schools can regulate elementary school student’son-campus expression. The court did not say why it declined to hear the case, asis customary. Daniel Walz, an elementary school student in Egg HarborTownship School District, attempted to distribute pencils with the message”Jesus [heart shape] the Little Children” attached during a class party in April1998. A teacher confiscated the pencils and school officials said Walz coulddistribute the pencils only outside of class because the school did not want toappear to be endorsing Christianity. Walz was then prohibited fromdistributing candy canes with a religious message in December 1998. Schoolofficials told Dana Walz that her son could distribute religious material onlyoutside of the classroom. Dana Walz and her son filed a lawsuit against theschool district with the help of the Rutherford Institute, a civil libertiesorganization based in Charlottesville, Va. Two lower courts, includingthe U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which has jurisdiction over NewJersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and the U.S. Virgin Islands, ruled that schoolscan control elementary school students’ expression. According to the ThirdCircuit’s ruling, “a school’s need to control student behavior will necessarilyresult in limitations on student speech.”John Whitehead, president ofthe Rutherford Institute, said the Third Circuit ruling “goes against the grainof American Democracy.”Under the Third Circuit’s ruling, Whitehead saidschools might prohibit students from wearing armbands to protest the war inIraq, referencing the black armbands that Des Moines, Iowa, junior high and highschool students wore to protest the Vietnam War. The students’ protest resultedin the Supreme Court’s 1969 ruling in Tinker v. Des Moines IndependentCommunity School District that students “do not shed their constitutionalrights to freedom of expression at the schoolhouse gate” and that students canexpress themselves freely unless their actions caused a substantial disruptionof the educational environment. “Do we really want a school system wherechildren can’t protest? ” Whitehead asked. “Are you telling me a kid who wantsto hand out candy canes is substantial disruption? You’ve got to be kidding me.”

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