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3 students go to court for right to distribute religious literature

DAVENPORT, Iowa (BP)–Three students in Davenport, Iowa, filed a federal lawsuit May 30 against their school board, school district and superintendent for barring them from distributing Bibles and church-event fliers on school grounds during non-instructional time.

The students, from three separate Davenport middle and high schools, requested permission to distribute fliers advertising the Oneighty Youth Program designed to give teenagers in the Quad cities area a safe place to have fun in a positive atmosphere. The program includes music, drama, dance teams and multimedia presentations with biblically based principles, according to Liberty Counsel, the group from Orlando, Fla., representing the students in the case.

The plaintiffs also wanted to distribute copies of the “Truth for Youth Bible,” a translation of the New Testament for teenagers.

After several meetings with the superintendent, the students were told that they could not distribute the materials.

An April 3 letter from the superintendent and school board stated, “We do have restrictions placed on us as a public entity that prohibit the distribution of religious materials. Therefore, your request to distribute these materials must be denied.”

The students’ suit claims the district violated their constitutional right to free speech. “Students do not shed their constitutional rights to free speech at the schoolhouse gate. School officials may not ban students from distributing literature to their classmates solely because of its religious content,” said Mathew Staver, president and general counsel of Liberty Counsel. “The school allows other students to distribute all sorts of literature, while banning only literature that contains religious themes. This the school cannot do.”

Parent Larry Dean told the Des Moines Register the students are sticking up for their beliefs. “I think it’s three pretty brave kids,” he said. “A lot of friends will give them a hard time, but they were willing to take the stand.”

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  • Erin Curry