school district in Plano, Texas, has battled a case for eight years
that raises the question: Does an elementary school student have a
First Amendment right to free speech?
The school district has made an
appeal, and arguments were heard this morning by all 17 judges on the
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
v. Plano Independent School District, more commonly known as the
“candy cane case,” involves several students who were denied
their free speech rights and discriminated against because
their speech was religious in nature.
who is a parent or grandparent or just cares about the future of this
country should be concerned,” Kelly Shackelford, CEO
and president of Liberty Institute, says. “If this court rules that elementary
students have no First Amendment rights, then neither students nor
their parents will have any recourse against religious
discrimination, [which has] occurred in this case. It would be a massive
shift of power away from citizens and families to the government.”
case started eight years ago when then 8-year-old Jonathan Morgan was
banned from handing out candy cane pens to his classmates because a
poem about Jesus was attached. The school district also threatened a
young girl for handing out tickets after school to a religious play
and forbade an entire class of students from writing “Merry
Christmas” on holiday cards to American troops serving overseas.
They even called the police on a mother who protested the punishing
of her daughter, whose “Jesus” pencils were seized.
argument that the school officials are making is that it’s
perfectly OK to engage in hostile religious discrimination against
kids for speech they’re engaging in during their own free time,”
says Hiram Sasser, one of the main attorneys on the case.
is the director of litigation for Liberty Institute, which represents
the students in this case. He says the results of the case will have
a great impact on the nation because if his party loses, it will
change a precedent that has been set for decades.
been clearly established law for decades that government officials
are not allowed to discriminate against speech because it’s
religious in nature,” Sasser explains. “Every court … has
always declared that the worst violation against the Constitution is
discriminating against speech because you don’t like what the
person is expressing—in this case, religious viewpoints.
we lose, it will be a massive change in the law authorizing school
officials to intentionally discriminate against students who say
something religious, even in their free time when they’re not
bothering or disturbing anybody.”
case is bringing up not only what rights elementary school children
have, but also people with special needs. According to Sasser, the
Association of Retarded Citizens is concerned for its members who
have the IQ of an elementary school child.
Institute is asking for prayers that the judges would rule in their
favor—which means the law would stay the same—and the Plano
school district would not have the right to censor children’s speech
because of its religious nature.
Institute has partnered with two former U.S. Solicitors General to
help them argue on the students’ behalf: Paul Clement (who will also
represent the U.S. House of Representatives in its effort to uphold
the Defense of Marriage Act), and Kenneth Starr, president of Baylor
school district has appealed multiple times and can take their case
to the U.S. Supreme Court if the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals rules
against them. Arguments were heard at 10 a.m. CST, and Sasser
predicts the verdict will be take between six and nine months.