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Student Free Speech Upheld in New York State

A group of teen girls gathered for prayer.

We recently helped to ensure that a 7th grade student could continue to pass out religious messages to other students at her public middle school in New York State. The student had notes with encouraging Bible verses delivered to a few other students. The parents of one of the students complained to the Principal, who then informed the student that she could not pass out personalized religious notes in the future.

After the student’s mother contacted us, we sent her a letter explaining that the First Amendment prohibited public schools from singling out student distribution of religious literature for disfavored treatment. In response, the parent received a letter back from the Superintendent that stated:

Unfortunately, [the Principal’s reaction] is not consistent with District policy or practice. I want to assure you that [your daughter] has the right and will not be restricted from distributing messages to other students during non-instructional time, consistent with District policy and practice that is applicable to students’ ability to share notes and messages that do not have religious content. . . . The District is committed to honoring the rights of students to distribute religious materials during non-instructional time.

The parent and her daughter were pleased with this outcome. The parent sent us an email saying, “I greatly appreciate that you helped me sort out right from wrong when no one else seemed to understand the issue I was having. I GREATLY appreciate your time and talent. . . . Thank you!” Unfortunately this is not an isolated incident, and we will continue to defend the free speech rights of public school students across the country.

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