• Religious message may be part of school fundraiser

    Date: 09.24.10 | by Judge Tom.

    The Pattison Elementary School in Katy, Texas, decided to do a fundraiser for art supplies. Through a third-party vendor the school allowed parents to choose artwork created by their children as well as from several stock messages for inside the twelve holiday cards.

    The school allowed Merry Christmas and Peace on Earth messages and others recognizing Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. However, they turned down the selection that read: “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus; for He shall save his people from their sins.”

    Image by Carolyn Coles

    School administrators considered the words to be a violation of the Establishment Clause that states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . .” The restriction was challenged in court which had to decide if the message crossed the line between church and state. Public schools are called upon often to balance a student’s freedom of religion and freedom of expression with their duty to maintain a neutral and nondiscriminatory environment.

    In July, 2010 the federal court * ruled in favor of the parents who selected the religious message. The judge wrote in his opinion that the words were protected by the right to free speech as “clearly private expression” and not a statement by or endorsed by the school. The religious words were an expression of a viewpoint among others included in the cards and as such could not be singled out for  exclusion. “Viewpoint discrimination” is prohibited by the Constitution as well as other forms of discrimination.

    The judge also took the opportunity to comment on the difficult task schools face when dealing with religion in public education. Noting that the case began in 2006, Judge Lee H. Rosenthal stated “As this case demonstrates, decisions in such seemingly innocuous and benign activities as elementary school parties and fundraisers for elementary school classes too often lead to protracted litigation.”

    *Pounds v. Katy Independent School District (Texas District Court (Houston) 2010)

    Judge Tom

    This post was written by Judge Tom. Judge Tom is the founder and moderator of AsktheJudge.info. He is a retired juvenile judge and spent 23 years on the bench. He has written several books for lawyers and judges as well as teens and parents including the recently published 'Teen Cyberbullying Investigated' (Free Spirit Publishing). When he's not answering teens' questions, Judge Tom can be found hiking, traveling and reading.

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    4 Comments subscribe to these comments.

    • Clay Boggess
      Fri, 24 Sep 2010 at 05:35

      This court decision was a clear win for free speech and upholds the protection that the 1st Amendment provides all of us. How could school administrators have interpreted those words alone to be a violation of the Establishment Clause? It was clear that they were discriminating against some people’s viewpoints by prohibiting free speech in this case. The school should have come out in the beginning stating that they didn’t make or endorse any one particular statement option for the card and that would have solved the issue without the need for litigation. A no brainer!

    • Clay Boggess
      Fri, 24 Sep 2010 at 11:37

      Religious message may be a part of school fundraiser according to judge http://bit.ly/bbN4pG

    • Dennis Coleman
      Fri, 24 Sep 2010 at 11:45

      RT @BigEFundraising: Religious message may be a part of school fundraiser according to judge http://bit.ly/bbN4pG

    • Askthejudge.info
      Fri, 24 Sep 2010 at 05:21

      Religious messages on greeting cards for school fundraiser did not violate separation of church and state. http://fb.me/GJx6dvZn

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