.- A civil liberties organization has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of an elementary school student and his mother, after school authorities prohibited the young boy from giving his classmates holiday gifts that included a Christian message.
The suit, filed by the Rutherford Institute, is challenging a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit that upholds the school policy, which the institute argues is religious discrimination.
"To prohibit a student from handing out gifts of his choosing to his classmates simply because the school is afraid that a parent will mistakenly assume school participation is ludicrous," said John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, according to CNSNews.com.
"We are hopeful the U.S. Supreme Court will see through the school officials' justifications and recognize their actions for what they are – religious discrimination," Whitehead said.
CNSNews.com. reported that, in April 1998, Daniel Walz’s pre-kindergarten class held a holiday party during the Easter-Passover season. Some children brought small gifts to the party. Daniel’s gifts to his classmates were pencils with the message: "Jesus loves the little children."
His teacher confiscated the pencils because of their religious message. Daniel's mother, Dana Walz, was in the classroom and immediately reported the event to the school principal. But the principal, assistant superintendent and superintendent supported the teacher’s actions.
Before a class Christmas-Hanukkah party that same year, Daniel’s mother contacted the school's attorney to get permission for her son to hand out candy canes with the story "The Candy Maker's Witness" attached to them.
She was told Daniel could distribute his gifts only outside the classroom and that only non-religious gifts could be handed out in class.
According to a CNSNews.com. report, dated Jan. 6, the Rutherford Institute’s arguments state that the school district's actions and policies discriminate against Daniel on the basis of religion and are in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as New Jersey state law against discrimination.
Attorneys have asked the court to determine whether students' religious speech can be censored and to what extent the Supreme Court's First Amendment jurisprudence applies in the context of a public elementary school.