A federal court has decided that district policy regulating when Plano, Texas school students can distribute religious materials is constitutional.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans upheld the 2005 school district rules that regulated when students could hand out religious materials.
The district's most recent policy allows students to distribute materials before and and after school, at three annual parties and at designated tables during school hours. Middle and high school students were allowed to also hand out materials during lunch periods.
The Circuit Court ordered a lower court to review its decision that upheld an earlier school district policy that was in effect before 2005. Under that policy, school administrators banned students from giving away pencils that had printing that read, "Jesus is the reason for the season," as well as candy canes which described the true story of Christmas. The policy was restrictive and all materials had to be reviewed by the principal before they were distributed.
Four families with students attending Plano schools complained about the earlier policy and sued the district.
The Liberty Legal Institute has said the policy unfairly restricted religious freedom.
"By siding with the district over the newer rules, the federal appeals court has restricted the students' rights to free speech," said Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel at Plano-based Liberty Legal Institute, which represented the children's families. Previous standards had allowed students to express themselves as long as they didn't disrupt class and weren't lewd, Shackelford said.
"We're glad that the Plano ISD censorship of one kid handing a piece of literature to another friend is now going to be over. But we're sad that they are reducing free speech not only Plano but other schools," he said.