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Education Reporter

Free Exercise Clause Gets Workout
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The constitutional right of Americans to free exercise of religion continues to bedevil public-school administrators, as suggested by the following recent disputes:

A seven-year-old girl in Pittsburgh was suspended for telling a boy who had said "I swear to God" that he would go to "hell." The suspension was based on a school code banning profanity. Her parents have complained to the principal and the school district is investigating the suspension. (news.bbc.co.uk, 2-5-04)

A nine-year-old girl in Collinsville, IL was forbidden to read her Bible on a school bus. After her father challenged the rule, the bus driver was disciplined and reassigned. (belleville.com, 1-24-04)

A Dupo, IL high-school senior who was kicked off a school broadcast program for a month because he signed off with "God bless" is appealing the decision on the ground that it violates his First Amendment rights. (belleville.com, 1-20-04)

The U.S. Supreme Court will be asked to review a decision prohibiting a five-year-old boy from distributing pencils and candy canes with religious messages at pre-kindergarten holiday parties. The pencils read "Jesus loves little children" and the candy canes came with cards explaining that their J shape was in honor of Jesus and that the red stripes represented his blood. Last August, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed a lower courts finding that school officials had acted properly in confiscating the items. The Rutherford Institute is handling the case. (philly.com, 1-06-04)

A Ft. Lauderdale, FL girl has filed a federal lawsuit against a school district after being forbidden to pass out flyers to her classmates inviting them to a meeting at her church. The Liberty Counsel is handling the case. "The Supreme Court has made it very clear that government may not treat religious literature differently from other literature simply because it is religious. That is what the district has done in this case," said Mat Staver, president and general counsel.

The First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion may rear its head in a different sort of controversy in California, where a lawyer is trying to gather 598,105 signatures by May 24 to put a measure to state voters to use the King James Bible as a textbook for literature studies in public schools. Matt McLaughlin sees Bible study as broadening students understanding of religious symbolism and allegory in great works. Children whose parents don't want them to participate would not have to. Americans United for Separation of Church and State has called the plan unconstitutional and predicted court battles. (contracostatimes.com, 1-8-04)

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