Family Sues District Over Right to Promote Bring Your Bible to School Day
At issue are the kids’ rights to participate in Bring Your Bible to School Day—a national, student-led event sponsored annually by Focus on the Family. The event empowers students to celebrate their First Amendment freedoms—and share God’s hope with their friends—by taking a simple action: bringing their Bibles to school.
In 2018, at least 650,000 students participated (on Oct. 4)—and Nieka and Micah hoped to join the movement. But they encountered challenges at John R. Peterson Elementary School in Huntington Beach, California.
According to the lawsuit, first, they were told they couldn’t put up a poster promoting the event, but that they could distribute flyers during free time. When one of the boys tried to do so, however, a school official “commanded him to stop.” When the boys’ mom, Holly Bausch, sought clarification, the principal explained that “As a public school, we cannot approve the distribution of religious materials to students during school hours,” according to an email quoted in the legal complaint.
The email further stated “I ask that no flyers be given to other students during recess, lunch or in class.”
So why do flyers—and what happens during recess—ultimately matter? These might seem like mundane issues, but they are vital to religious freedoms in public schools. Fact is, respectfully sharing information during a free period like lunch or recess is one of the primary, and often only, outlets that kids have for expressing their values and putting their free-speech rights into practice. Shut down that right and you’ve essentially squelched kids’ ability to direct any kind of student-led event.
Though Nieka and Micah are just two little boys, their family’s courageous decision to speak up —despite the intimidating prospect of navigating a school district, the media and legal system—will likely impact not only every other student in their school, but also hundreds of thousands of kids nationwide.
That’s especially important to every student hoping to participate in the 2019 Bring Your Bible to School Day event: According to the legal complaint, the fact that school officials prohibited the boys from distributing “promotional flyers, coupled with implied threat of future discipline, actually and substantially chills the future exercise … of First Amendment rights.”
Meanwhile, the lawsuit also points to evidence that other kids had previously distributed flyers during the school day, citing examples such as chess club and “Creative Little Minds” art classes. So the Bausch boys’ equal rights to do the same shouldn’t be banned just because of their religious perspective.
“The First Amendment applies to all student oral expression and literature distribution during non-instructional time, regardless of religious content. School officials may not prohibit this expression out of fear that allowing religious speech will offend some members of the community,” explained Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal group that partners with Bring Your Bible to School Day and often assists students whose rights have been violated.
In news reports this week, the school said that it eventually let the kids distribute flyers so there shouldn’t be an issue. But the students’ attorney, Bill Becker, made it clear in a press release that there were important issues yet be addressed:
“Principle Polhemus and the Huntington Beach City School District are about to learn a hard lesson in constitutional law. Students, regardless of grade level, have a First Amendment right to express a religious viewpoint to another student, including the right to distribute religious flyers, without fear.”
By Candi Cushman, director of education issues & initiatives for Focus on the Family and founder of Bring Your Bible to School Day