The line between public school prayer and free speech was drawn in a celebrated case in Kansas beginning in 2013. The issue was resolved the next year with the free exchange of ideas prevailing and the dismissal of a lawsuit against a school district.
In September 2013, a seventh-grader at Robert E. Clark Middle School in a suburb of Kansas City had distributed fliers announcing a “See You at the Pole” event, an activity popular throughout schools in the country. Students meet at a flagpole outside the school to participate in prayer before school starts.
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The fliers included Bible verses, and a school counselor told the student the fliers could not be distributed or posted on school grounds, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom
. A policy of the Unified School District No. 204 prohibited religious materials on school grounds before, during and after school hours. School officials took down any fliers that were posted and destroyed them.
The Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit against the school district in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas on the student’s behalf. The ADF argued that the distribution of the materials represented a free exchange of ideas. It pointed out that other students posted materials on school activities, and even had a poster in a school hallway that promoted a rap star, marijuana and alcohol, according to The Christian Post.
Denying the student the ability to distribute fliers regarding a prayer event violated the student’s First Amendment rights, according to the ADF.
When the school revised its policy on removing the ban for distribution of religious materials, the ADF dropped its lawsuit in April 2014.
“The law on this is very clear: public school policies cannot target religious speech for exclusion,” stated ADF legal counsel Matt Sharp.
Kansas is similar to many other states in that it allows a one-minute period of silence for prayer or reflection in the classroom. However, the period cannot be conducted as a religious exercise, according to FindLaw.
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Some school districts try to reintroduce prayer in school by allowing praying before school activities despite legal concerns. In Liberal, Kansas, the school board voted to allow prayer led by students in all school district activities in 2013, according to The Leader and Times
. Liberal High School had abandoned the practice of using the public address system for prayer before football games several years earlier to avoid any legal action, but the new policy by the school board would allow it.
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