WA Court Allows Student to Distribute Bible Tracts

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington has upheld the right of a student to hand out gospel tracts to his fellow students, overturning the student’s suspension and ruling that the school’s requirement that anything handed out must be created by the student himself to be unconstitutional.

A federal court ruling clears the way for a local teen to continue sharing a religious message on his school’s campus.

Michael Leal filed a lawsuit against Everett Public Schools after they tried to stop him from preaching and passing out religious booklets…

The district eventually told Leal he could share his message in a “free speech” area at school, but said if he wanted to pass out literature he had to write it himself and only distribute it before and after school and at campus entrances and exits…

The judge ruled Leal could continue to pass out the brochures, but also said the district could limit where and when he does that. Leal’s attorneys say this decision protects students across the country.

This is the correct result. Students have every right to distribute literature to their schoolmates, whether the message is religious or not, within reasonable limits (it can’t be done during class time, for instance). This is a long-established legal principle. The same would apply if it were an SSA club handing out literature.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/eo.raptor.3 eoraptor

    The same would apply if it were an SSA club handing out literature.

    Unfortunately, I am not sure “would” is realistic in that sentence. I absolutely agree that the ruling applies to SSA, the Muslim club, or the LGBT club. I have my doubts, however. I suspect most of the people in Everett agree with this decision only because it was good Christian material. Let a lesbian student try to hand out materials supporting LGBT issues, and wait to hear the gnashing of teeth, rending of cloth, and forlorn wails — and homicidal anger when the Court slaps them down.

  • Trebuchet

    I live in Everett. Despite having given us Glenn Beck, it’s a predominantly liberal town.

  • raven

    Michael Leal filed a lawsuit against Everett Public Schools after they tried to stop him from preaching and passing out religious booklets…

    Meh.

    I suspect the vast majority of students think he is a kook.

    The PNW is pretty nonreligious and the most nonreligious demographic are….young people.

  • Scientismist

    You gotta have fundies preaching in the hallway, or how do you get your laughs during lunch hour?

    The way it worked 50+ years ago (also in the Pacific NW) was that Jehovah’s Witnesses would pass out Watchtower and other tracts in the hallway between classes, and we biology students would set them straight about evolution. No, giraffes didn’t get their long necks by stretching them; and “survival of the fittest” doesn’t mean that evolutionarily only giraffes or sheep (but not both) should survive in today’s world, since only one of them could be “fittest”.

  • http://florilegia.wordpress.com Ibis3, These verbal jackboots were made for walking

    To me, this isn’t an issue of church-state separation, but an issue of harassment. Active proselytisation creates a hostile environment for other students and should not be allowed. If he wants to proselytise, he can start a club and invite other students to join so he can preach to them and hand out whatever literature he wants.

  • Alverant

    “The same would apply if it were an SSA club handing out literature.”

    No it wouldn’t. They’d find an excuse to block it and any other club the school board didn’t like.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    I’m not really sure that is the correct result. Schools have a responsibility to limit what material is accessible to students on school property. That’s a fundamental part of a school’s educational mission — and I’m sure no one would question it if the material in question had been, say, Martin Luther’s “On the Jews and Their Lies,” or an ISIL snuff-tape, or a Chick tract saying that kids who didn’t believe in Jesus were evil and had to be “saved” from eternal damnation.

    The purpose of a school is to provide students with an education in accordance with the law and students’ social/educational needs. A school has, not only the right, but an obligation, to discourage activities it deems disruptive or a waste of time. And distributing religious pamphlets from an outside source, when kids can just as easily get the same materials elsewhere, is a waste of time; and may, depending on the specific content, also be disruptive or contribute to a hostile environment for non-believers.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    There’s two things I notice about this article: first, it says nothing at all about the specific content of the tracts this kid was handing out; and second, this about the kid himself:

    Leal is a senior at Cascade High School and says it’s a battle that’s put him at odds with his own school and friends.

    “I lost a lot of friends. In the end I found out they were really not friends,” Leal explained.

    Still Leal says he has no regrets about evangelizing at his high school. He became a Christian last year and aggressively started sharing his faith.

    “The bible says go share the gospel with every creature,” Leal said.

    The impression I get from this very selective article is that Leal became an obnoxious, bothersome, possibly bigoted and bullying sort of evangelical (a kind I’ve seen before in high school and college), who burned his bridges in a fit of self-righteous Christurbation. This may have caused enough offense (intentionally or not) to make school administrators less friendly to his agenda than they otherwise might have. If he was getting “aggressive” — the word the article used, which might have meant harassing or verbal bullying — that might have justified restricting his extracurricular activities.

  • Numenaster

    @Raging Bee #8, my Seattle-based family, which includes nieces in middle and high school, confirms that this has been the tone they have discerned in local news coverage. Here’s a quote from some of the local coverage about behavior that got him suspended

    “He was preaching on the Ten Commandments and other topics gleaned from tracts he carried when the school principal, Cathy Woods, confronted him and told him to stop, his attorneys told the court. He stopped briefly, but began again after other students began dancing.

    The district contends Leal interrupted the event for 20 minutes, using an amplifying device to present his sermon. Patterson described it as a “substantial disruption” that continued despite emphatic requests from school staff.

    School administrators called police to get Leal to stop. Officers arrived and spoke with him but did not otherwise intervene.

    Leal was suspended the next day. ”

    http://www.seattlepi.com/local/article/Christian-high-schooler-suspended-for-preaching-5902419.php

  • dogfightwithdogma

    Schools have a responsibility to limit what material is accessible to students on school property. That’s a fundamental part of a school’s educational mission ….

    Is this an opinion or a statement of fact? If the latter, what is the source for this claim? I taught high school for 22 years. I’ve seen many educational mission statements. Have never seen this particular claim as a part of any of them.

  • grumpyoldfart

    In the city whenever I see a lot of screwed up pieces of paper lying on the footpath I look around, and sure enough, there’s a street preacher handing out pamphlets.

  • StevoR

    @ ^ grumpyoldfart : Bloody litterbugs! Dob’t they have bins or know the “if there isn’t a bin handy then you take it home and bin there” rule in your town?

  • eric

    @9: it sounds like someone on the school’s side screwed up or got lazy. Meaning they had plenty of good reasons to curtail the manner in which he was presenting his literature (i.e., no bullhorns, no disrupting other student activities), but they chose to limit where he could hand out his literature instead and the judge didn’t buy that solution.

  • birgerjohansson

    Can we please send a couple of Jainist monks there to distribute jainist pamphlets? They would of course be wearing typical Jainist monk clothes, that is, nothing at all.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Numenaster: thanks for the clarification. Funny how important details like that get lost — or deliberately ignored — by the ardent defenders of the “free speech” of obnoxious disruptive attention-hogging assholes.

    Is this an opinion or a statement of fact?

    Are you fucking kidding me?! It’s plain old common sense, based on simple observation, from within and without, of how schools and teachers operate. Schools limit what materials are available to students on school turf in order to avoid material that is either dishonest (as in lies), dangerous (as in bad information about things like sex or drugs), inappropriate to the students’ ages (as in material that’s either too far behind or too far ahead of them), or just plain frivolous and time-wasting (as in toys or comic books).

    I taught high school for 22 years. I’ve seen many educational mission statements. Have never seen this particular claim as a part of any of them.

    You claim you’ve taught at school, but your dispute of my claim is based only on mission statements, not on actual experience? I call bullshit.

  • sigurd jorsalfar

    The judge ruled Leal could continue to pass out the brochures, but also said the district could limit where and when he does that.

    That pretty much deals with the problem of him disrupting school dances to preach — he can’t do it any more.

    Are you fucking kidding me?! It’s plain old common sense, based on simple observation, from within and without, of how schools and teachers operate. Schools limit what materials are available to students on school turf in order to avoid material that is either dishonest (as in lies), dangerous (as in bad information about things like sex or drugs), inappropriate to the students’ ages (as in material that’s either too far behind or too far ahead of them), or just plain frivolous and time-wasting (as in toys or comic books).

    Hmmm, I have no memory of my school searching my backpack each day to see what reading material I was bringing to school. Maybe I was sick that day.