A middle school student in Kansas who wanted to promote a “See You At the Pole” prayer event was barred from doing so because the fliers she posted in the school had “illegal” Bible verses, according to a federal lawsuit.
Officials at Robert E. Clark Middle School in Bonner Springs confiscated and destroyed the fliers the student had already posted, attorney Matt Sharp alleged.
Sharp, an attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom, filed the lawsuit against the Unified School District No. 204 last week on behalf of the seventh grade girl, known in court documents as “KR.”
“Public schools should encourage, not shut down, the free exchange of ideas,” Sharp said. “The law on this is extremely clear: School policies cannot target religious speech for exclusion. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech for all students, regardless of their religious or political beliefs.”
In September the student posted fliers to promote a “See You At the Pole” rally. The event was part of a national day of prayer when students gather around the flagpole of their school at the beginning of the day to pray for the school, students and staff.
Some of the fliers included Bible verses referencing John 3:16 and Romans 5:8 – two well-known passages of Scripture in the New Testament.
The student posted the fliers in hallways at the school on Sept. 20. Later that night, she returned to the school for a dance and was confronted by Chellie Bonebrake, a school counselor.
The lawsuit alleges that Bonebrake “forcefully” told the girl that the fliers were “illegal” because they were a “violation of the separation of church and state.”
“The child was humiliated in front of her friends,” the lawsuit alleges.
After the confrontation, the fliers were taken down and destroyed by school officials.
The following week, the girl tried to hand out materials inviting students to the prayer gathering, but became afraid because of the “likely consequences if she was caught,” according to the lawsuit.
Neither Bonebrake nor Rick Moulin, the principal of the middle school, returned my calls seeking comment.
Dan Brungardt, superintendent for the Bonner Springs/Edwardsville schools, said Monday he had not seen or heard about the lawsuit.
He also said the district had not received any complaints from parents or students about anything regarding posting fliers before the prayer event.
Brungardt said the event was announced over the school's intercom system.
"We can't encourage students to go, but we did announce it," Brungardt said.
The district has a policy prohibiting distribution of religious materials on school grounds because "different entities request to distribute information to students constantly. If all entities who requested were allowed it would be disruptive to the school environment," Brungardt said in an email.
Sharp said that policy is a violation of the First and 14th Amendments as well as the Kansas Preservation of Religious Freedom Act.
“Students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate,” he said. “Non-disruptive, private student expression is protected by the First Amendment. Religious speech is fully protected by the First Amendment.”
The school allows a variety of other posters to be displayed – including one promoting a popular rapper. A poster of Lil’ Wayne posted contained the words “Good Kush and Alcohol,” the lawsuit alleges.
Doug Bonney, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, said he was not familiar with the lawsuit, but he questioned whether the counselor had the authority to stop the student from handing out the fliers. Bonney said the school could be faulted if the student's posters were singled out because of their content.
"If in fact the school did prohibit the student from posting a religious message because it was religious, where a secular message would be allowed to stay up ... then the school might have some problems," Bonney said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary, heard on hundreds of radio stations. His latest book is "God Less America: Real Stories From the Front Lines of the Attack on Traditional Values." Follow Todd on Twitter@ToddStarnes and find him on Facebook.