Mechanicsburg students say bible restrictions violate first amendment rights

Free speech applies to all American citizens, all over the country, all day long— that’s the message lawyers with the Independence Law Center want to express to the Mechanicsburg Area School District board.

“Schools don’t have the ability to completely eliminate students’ speech during the entirety of the school day,” said Jeremy Samek, senior council with the Independence Law Center.

The message comes after the center says the student group, “Christians in Action," was denied permission to hand out bibles during lunch in November.

The school district, though, says they allow students to pass out non-school related materials before and after the school day with proper permission.

Samek says that in itself, is unconstitutional.

“The Supreme Court has ruled that students do not shed their constitutional rights when they enter the schoolhouse gates. So during non-instructional times in non-disruptive manners, they have the right to free speech,” said Samek.

The school superintendent declined to speak on camera, but the school issued a statement saying, "These rules are established to respect the rights of all students, create a sense of belonging in the school, and ensure there are not disruptions to the school day, and that includes times like lunch.”

School policy also requires students submit requests for permission to distribute materials at least three school days before they hope to pass them out.

In their statement, the school added the “Christians in Action” group never made a request.

Samek says that’s not true.

“The request was made, and the denial was made, in writing, specifically to say, ‘You cannot hand out bibles during the school day,’” said Samek.

He says this issue goes beyond just the Bible Club, and hopes fighting this could help all students have a voice in the future.

“This doesn’t just affect the rights of the students in the Bible Club. This affects the rights of all students, whether they believe in religion or not. Whatever the issue is they want to talk about, this protects all of their rights. And so they’re not doing this just for themselves so that they have a right that others don’t have, this is for all the students,” said Samek.

Samek says he hopes the board will have a better understanding after the meeting about why he says this is unconstitutional.

And if not, he says they will take this as far as they need to to get the policy changed, even if it means suing the district.

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