Syracuse, NY - On Friday a federal district court issued an opinion finding that school officials had violated a fourth grader's free speech rights by denying her request to distribute religious flyers during noninstructional time. The court also ruled that the school's literature distribution policy is unconstitutional. The student, Michaela Bloodgood, is represented by Liberty Counsel.
In 2004, when Michaela was a student at Nate Perry Elementary School in Liverpool, New York, she asked permission to give a flyer that she wrote to her friends and classmates during non-instructional time. The flyer stated: "Hi! My name is Michaela and I would like to tell you about my life and how Jesus Christ gave me a new one. I asked Him to come into my heart and save me from my sins. This is what He has done for me. 1) Jesus Christ helped my parents decide to get remarried in November and then I will get to see my Dad everyday. 2) He helped me memorize Bible verses and say them in front of my church. 3) He helped me learn piano and play psalms and hymns and sing with grace in my heart to the Lord. 4) God cared enough for me that He gave me victory over thinking about something bad that happened to me. 5) Now that I am saved, God gave me peace in my heart and the truth that I am going to heaven instead of the other place. Praise the Lord."
School officials insisted that Michaela could not distribute the flyers because of the potential for divisiveness, litter and that students might believe the school was endorsing a religious message. The school banned all literature distribution by students. Liberty Counsel's lawsuit contended that the school cannot totally ban literature distribution by students during noninstructional time, any more than it can ban verbal communication, without violating the First Amendment.
The district court opinion stated that "none of the reasons the District articulated for denying [Michaela's] request indicate more than undifferentiated fear or apprehension of disturbance, which is not enough to overcome the right of freedom of expression." The opinion also stated that "the Court cannot say the danger that children would misperceive the endorsement of religion is any greater than the danger that they would perceive a hostility toward religion as a result of the District's denial of [Michaela's] request to distribute her flyers."
Religious speech is constitutionally protected, even in the public schools. School officials had no right to silence Michaela's personal Christian testimony. Michaela was simply attempting to express to her friends how Jesus changed her life. She has every right to express her religious views at school, and that right has been vindicated.