A religious student group has filed suit in federal court against Oklahoma's Owasso Public Schools, claiming that the district has violated the group's First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
Owasso Kids for Christ, a youth bible club, meets weekly at Northeast Elementary before the school day starts. The group, with representative help from the Alliance Defense Fund, is arguing that OPS is denying them of their rights to free speech and exercise and rights to due process and equal protection by no longer permitting the students to promote their events at school through materials like flyers.
The lawsuit claims that "the overbreadth of the district's policy and practice chills the speech of community groups who seek to engage in private religious expression" by taking part in community activities and distributing materials.
The lawsuit stems from an April incident in which club members wanted to send their peers home with a flyer that contained the phrase, "Reaching the world for Christ!" -- a phrase that district Superintendent Clark Ogilvie said violated district policies, World Net Daily reports.
In a statement Tuesday, Ogilvie says "the issue has been misconstrued and taken out of context," noting that the district has not denied access to religious groups in schools, but that those groups must follow school guidelines and policies.
The general district policy notes that "no literature will be distributed that contains primarily religious, objectionable, or political overtones which may be beneficial to any particular group or business at the expense of others," according to the OPS website. The suit claims that Ogilvie said the policy aims to keep "bad clubs" like the Ku Klux Klan out of Owasso schools.
Under the student section of district policy, however, the manual notes that "the distribution of written material shall not be restricted or denied solely because of the political, religious, or philosophical content of the material."
The allowing of such activities to impressionable elementary students during the regular school day and while school is in session would certainly raise the issue as to endorsement of religion," the attorney wrote. "In fact, it is difficult to see how an elementary student could discern that [Kids for Christ] is not endorsed by the school district when such activities on behalf of [Kids for Christ] would be occurring by the school district to a captive elementary student audience."
Still, the group argues in court documents that organizations like the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and YMCA are allowed to distribute promotional materials and can take part in an open house and use the school's public address system -- access that was denied to Owasso Kids for Christ.
"The school district cannot engage in that type of discriminatory behavior," ADF attorney Matt Sharp told KOKI Fox 23. "The school has to remain neutral in all of this, it can't pick and choose which group it likes or doesn't like based on the religious content or viewpoint of their message."
The lawsuit also seeks a ruling that declares OPS' policy unconstitutional.
Last month, a federal appeals court in California ruled that San Diego-area math teacher Bradley Johnson does not have the constitutional right to display banners referring to God in his classroom. And in a federal lawsuit filed in April, 16-year-old Rhode Island student Jessica Ahlquist fought to take down a prayer mural from the auditorium of her high school.
Read the full court document here:
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