Michigan judge limits Hazelwood’s reach; rules middle school ban on religious speech unconstitutional

A federal district court judge ruled last month that the Saginaw SchoolDistrict violated a fifth-grade student’s First Amendment rights whenschool officials stopped him from handing out a religious message distributed tohis classmates as part of a school project.
Handley Elementary School studentJoel Curry and his parents sued the district for not allowing him to distributea handmade ornament with a religious message during an educational exercisecalled “Classroom City.” The exercise was intended to teach students civicsthrough marketing, literature and government. The students were told to create aproduct that would be “sold” to their classmates — using fake money— during a three-day market in the school gym. With help from his parents,Curry created a candy cane-like ornament with a religious messageattached.

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SPLCView: This is another very important case out of Michigan for the rights ofhigh school student media. Like an earlier Michigan decision, Dean v. UticaCommunity Schools, this decision is helpful on two fronts. First, once againa court has recognized that the Supreme Court’s less protective Hazelwoodstandard does not apply to all high school student expression. Forum analysis,this court affirms, is a required first step. If the student expression at issuetakes place in a public or limited public forum, Hazelwood does not applyand school officials will have much less authority to censor. Second, we haveyet another case where a judge has reined in the Hazelwood standard. Thisdecision makes clear that even in cases where Hazelwood does apply, itsreach is not unlimited and school officials must show that they have areasonable educational justification for their censorship. That standard —contrary to the belief of many school officials and as this case illustrates— does have some teeth to it.
Case: Curry v. Sch. Dist. ofthe City of Saginaw, No. 04-10143 (E.D.
Mich. Sept. 18,2006)