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Appeals court erases student's gift of pencils with Christian message
BP News ^ | 9/29/03 | Tom Strode

Posted on 09/29/2003 3:45:18 PM PDT by truthandlife

A federal appeals court's ruling that a child may not give pencils bearing the inscription "Jesus [loves] the little children" to his classmates is "yet one more ludicrous example of the federal courts' attempt to help governments at every level to enforce a rigidly secular bias on our public spaces," said Southern Baptist church-state specialist Richard Land.

The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a federal judge's decision that a New Jersey school system acted constitutionally in prohibiting a 4-year-old student from distributing the pencils at a spring class party. A three-judge panel of the Third Circuit unanimously affirmed the school system had not violated the child's rights under the First Amendment's protection of free exercise of religion and freedom of expression nor the 14th Amendment's equal protection guarantees.

In 1998, Daniel Walz sought to distribute pencils inscribed with "Jesus [loves] the little children" -- with a heart symbol for the word "loves" -- to his pre-kindergarten classmates during a party in the classroom shortly before Easter. His teacher confiscated the pencils and reported them to the school superintendent of Egg Harbor Township. The superintendent decided the pencils could not be passed out because students and parents might interpret distribution as a school endorsement of the message.

The Third Circuit panel ruled the school's action was appropriate.

Walz "was not attempting to exercise a right to personal religious observance in response to a class assignment or activity," Chief Judge Anthony Scirica wrote for the panel. "His mother's stated purpose was to promote a religious message through the channel of a benign classroom activity. In the context of its classroom holiday parties, the school's restrictions on this expression were designed to prevent proselytizing speech that, if permitted, would be at cross-purposes with its educational goal and could appear to bear the school's seal of approval."

Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said, "The idea that a child should not have the right to share his faith at an appropriate, discretionary time when other gifts are being shared is to mangle the First Amendment's religious freedom protections beyond recognition. Actions like this decision illustrate the extreme secular bias of our nation's courts and many of our nation's public institutions, including the public's schools. I would strongly encourage the residents of this township to hire employees who would ditch these ludicrous and offensive restrictions."

John Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute called the decision "probably one of the worst I've ever read," according to CitizenLink. "What they're saying to schools in the Third Circuit is that 'you have total control, and kids have no freedom at all.'"

Whitehead told Family News in Focus, "All we're asking here is for freedom of religion and the right of this little boy to be treated like everybody else in the class who are handing out all kinds of things with Christmas messages and Hanukkah messages on them."

The Rutherford Institute is helping represent Walz and his mother, Dana. He will appeal to the full Third Circuit Court and, if necessary, to the U.S. Supreme Court, Whitehead said.

CitizenLink and Family News in Focus are both services of Focus on the Family.

After Daniel Walz's efforts to give away the pencils were spurned, he sought to distribute another gift at the class holiday party the next December. He attempted to give away candy canes attached to copies of a story titled "A Candy Maker's Witness, " which told of the Christian symbolism of the candy. The school did not allow him to pass them out during the party but did permit him to do so in the hallway after class.

The appeals court panel acknowledged students do not forfeit their free speech rights when they go on school property but said school officials rightfully must limit some speech to control behavior. "As a general matter, the elementary school classroom, especially for kindergartners and first graders, is not a place for student advocacy," the panel wrote.

The school system has an unwritten policy barring the distribution during school hours of items bearing religious, political or commercial messages, superintendent Leonard Kelpsh said.

The appeals court ruling, which was released Aug. 27 to little notice, seems certain to add to calls to bring the federal judiciary under control. Many conservative Christians and some religious liberty organizations have contended in recent years the federal courts are acting as lawmakers and overreaching their constitutional authority.

The case is Walz v. Egg Harbor Township Board of Education.

The Third Circuit includes the states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

A recent example of what critics describe as judicial tyranny occurred in the 11th Circuit, where the appeals court agreed a Ten Commandments display in Alabama's judicial building was unconstitutional and must be moved.

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Extended News; Government; US: New Jersey
KEYWORDS: 3rdcircuit; christians; judicialtyranny; persecution; rutherfordinstitute

1 posted on 09/29/2003 3:45:19 PM PDT by truthandlife
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To: truthandlife
Despite all their claims to the contrary, libs obviously hate children. I suppose it wouldn't have been a problem if the child brought pencils with a pentagram, ying/yang symbol, and so on, and so on.....
2 posted on 09/29/2003 4:05:22 PM PDT by anniegetyourgun
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To: truthandlife
Betcha he could've handed out pencils engraved with "Mohammed (heart) the little children...especially the little girls!"

3 posted on 09/29/2003 4:11:24 PM PDT by Moose4 (I'm Southern. We've been refighting the Civil War for 138 years, you think we'll forget 9/11?)
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To: truthandlife
In 1998, Daniel Walz sought to distribute pencils inscribed with "Jesus [loves] the little children" -- with a heart symbol for the word "loves" -- to his pre-kindergarten classmates during a party in the classroom shortly before Easter.

Why did the teacher decide to have a party "shortly before Easter?" Why didn't they expect a student to bring in Easter gifts at a party so close to Easter? You can't have a party associated with a religious event and deny the religious aspect, even if the party is euphamistically named.

When will the schools rename the word "holiday" because holy days endorse religion? When will schools abandon calendars and the 7-day week because 7 days comes from Genesis?


4 posted on 09/29/2003 4:17:35 PM PDT by Political Junkie Too (It's not safe yet to vote Democrat.)
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To: anniegetyourgun
Yeah, if the establishment clause, which was supposed to ensure religious freedom did not exist our judicial tyrants could not use the clause to prevent religous expression. Very Orwellian logic from our courts.
5 posted on 09/29/2003 4:18:07 PM PDT by Jacquerie
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To: Moose4
It would be interesting if someone came with a pencil that said "Islam - The Religion of Peace." Wonder what they would do?
6 posted on 09/29/2003 4:18:25 PM PDT by truthandlife
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To: truthandlife
I wonder if "Greenpeace" pencils were passed out, would the child doing so be stopped?

7 posted on 09/29/2003 4:22:03 PM PDT by feedback doctor
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To: truthandlife
On the eve of the Iraqi War, a Muslim middle student in a Chicagoland school passed out flyers calling President Bush a racist war-monger. That particular school district initially suspended the boy for causing a dispution. However, the boy's mother threatened to sue, and the school district backed down. Later, the school administrators issued a statement to the local media that they support the free speech rights of students. I wonder how the NJ school officials would treat the Chicago case if it happened to them?
8 posted on 09/29/2003 4:25:30 PM PDT by Kuksool
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To: Kuksool

dispution = disruption
9 posted on 09/29/2003 4:27:19 PM PDT by Kuksool
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To: truthandlife
The opinion is here: Walz vs. Egg Harbor...

Seems the little guy is a subversive in the eyes of the three-judge panel:

...controverts the rules of a structured classroom activity with the intention of promoting an unsolicited message.

10 posted on 09/29/2003 4:27:48 PM PDT by freedomcrusader
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To: Kuksool
I would love to know who the teacher is that saw evil in a simple, innocent gesture of goodwill from a pre-schooler....

how can people like that look at themselves in the mirror...

but I suppose its the same old story...she/he is probably a "good" Christian living in the suburbs in a gated community and her/his own children go to private school so as not to have to interact with the commoners.....

limosine as I say, not as I do....

11 posted on 09/29/2003 4:31:45 PM PDT by cherry
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To: cherry
how can people like that look at themselves in the mirror...

Good question.

Surely this teacher has better things to do than to act as the Pencil Gestapo Thought Police.

12 posted on 09/29/2003 4:33:51 PM PDT by Skooz (All Hail the Mighty Kansas City Chiefs)
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To: truthandlife
Also annoying is the fact that one of the three judges, Anthony Scirica, is a Reagan appointee. D. Brooks Smith, another author of this outrageous opinion, was appointed by W. to the third circuit and was bitterly opposed by the feminazis at NOW. The third judge, Maryanne Trump Barry, was a Klinton appointee.
13 posted on 09/29/2003 4:36:51 PM PDT by freedomcrusader
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To: truthandlife
Good post bump.
14 posted on 09/29/2003 4:40:35 PM PDT by Dubya (Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father,but by me)
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To: truthandlife
If the pencils said "Allah Loves His Children Who Slay The Infidels", there would be no problem with the Courts.

"Freedom of speech", ya know...!

15 posted on 09/29/2003 4:48:25 PM PDT by Gritty
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To: truthandlife
It is fascinating that school districts are doing everything that they can to accomodate the religious practices of Muslim students. I wish school districts would do the same for students of other religions.

WVW says prayer room decision will stand up in court

By Fred Ney , Citizens' Voice Staff Writer 09/19/2003

Wyoming Valley West School District officials are confident a decision they made to provide "a quiet place" for two Muslim students to pray was correct and will hold up in court if legally challenged.

Charles Suppon, director of pupil services, Tuesday acknowledged the district provided a place to pray in the State Street Elementary Center in Larksville and the Chester Street Middle School in Kingston at the request of the parents of two Muslim students.

Suppon said no district personnel would encourage or participate in prayer with the students. He stressed it would be up to the students to engage in prayer.

District Solicitor Michael Hudacek said the issue would be researched to insure the district is on solid legal ground.
Superintendent August Piazza penned a memo Thursday to WVW School Board members assuring them the decision was a good one.

"Courts have reviewed this in much detail," Piazza stated. "It has been concluded that as long as the school district does not promote, encourage or support this practice, it is permissible.

"Meditation has not interfered with instructional time of the student," he added. "In the future, if there is a change, it will be reviewed."

Literature enclosed for school directors' review included a statement from Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

"Public schools are not permitted to sponsor worship, but that does not mean that they must be 'religion free zones.'
In order to clear up some of the misunderstandings about religion and the public schools, it is important for Americans to have the facts.

"... It's important that our public schools respect the beliefs of everyone and protect parental rights. The schools can best do this by not sponsoring religious worship. This principle ensures that America's public schools are welcoming to all children and leaves decisions about religion where it belongs ... with the family," it stated.

The group also referred to Engle versus Vitale, a 1962 Supreme Court case, in which justices ruled official prayer had no place in public education.

"This decision is widely misunderstood today. The court did not rule that students are forbidden to pray on their own; the justices merely said that government officials had no business composing a prayer for students to recite," the Americans United for Separation of Church and State literature points out.

"The Engle-Vitale case came about because parents in New York challenged a prayer written by a New York education board. These Christian, Jewish and Unitarian parents did not want their children subjected to state-sponsored devotions. The high court agreed that the scheme amounted to government promotion of religion," it continued.

The group contends, "Nothing in the 1962 or 1963 rulings makes it unlawful for public school students to pray or read the Bible (or any other religious book) on a voluntary basis during their free time. Later decisions have made this even clearer.

"In 1990, the high court ruled specifically that high school students may form clubs that meet during non-instructional time to pray, read religious texts or discuss religious topics if other student groups are allowed to meet," the group adds.

The statement concludes that "objective, balanced and non-devotional" approaches to religion "present no constitutional problem."

Another statement by the American Civil Liberties Union concludes it's all right to pray in school.

"Individual students have the right to pray whenever they want to, as long as they don't disrupt classroom instruction or other educational activities or try to force others to pray along with them," the ACLU statement reads.

"If a school official has told you that you can't pray at all during the school day, your right to exercise your religion is being violated. Contact your local ACLU for help."
16 posted on 09/29/2003 5:52:28 PM PDT by Kuksool
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