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« on: December 21, 2004, 03:15:35 AM »

Colorado School Sued for Restricting 5th-Grader's Religious Rights

by Jim Brown
December 20, 2004

(AgapePress) - A Colorado school district has been sued for prohibiting a fifth-grader from inviting fellow students to her Bible club. The lawsuit alleges the district unlawfully restricted the student's private religious speech.

In September, school officials in Gilpin County ordered Melanie Unruh to stop inviting other female students to the club called "God's Girlz," even though she was distributing the invitations outside of class time. The Bible club was started by the young girl's parents, who pay rent to meet in school facilities on Sundays. The principal of Gilpin County Elementary School also had earlier denied a request from Unruh's mother to include flyers for vacation Bible school in the school's community literature distribution forum.

Attorney Jeremy Tedesco is with the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund, which filed the suit against the district. Tedesco says the case is "simple" and "straightforward."

"We just want to vindicate Melanie's rights," the attorney explains. "The right of students to distribute literature during non-instructional times at schools in a way that doesn't materially disrupt school activities has been recognized at least since 1968." That was when the U.S. Supreme ruled that schools cannot discriminate against private student speech simply because that speech has a religious viewpoint.

The attorney believes the district is implementing a double standard. "The school has imposed a restriction on Melanie's speech simply because it is religious," he says. "They have said because of the separation of church and state, they are imposing this additional restriction on her speech."

But as Tedesco points out, "other students are permitted to distribute invitations to events like birthday parties or Halloween parties without any additional restrictions." School officials had told Melanie she had to obtain permission from the parents of each student to whom she wished to give an invitation.


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