â€œThis is a case where the school district is using a heavy hand of censorship against a second grade student who merely wants to express his religious faith during non-instructional times at school,â€ said Vincent P. McCarthy, Senior Counsel of the ACLJ, which is representing the student. â€œThe school districtâ€™s policy of prohibiting students from sharing religious material at school is both discriminatory and unconstitutional. Weâ€™re hopeful the court will act swiftly to uphold the constitutional rights of our client.â€
The ACLJ today filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Long Island in Central Islip, New York on behalf of Michael and Lisa Leirer and their son, Joshua, charging the William Floyd Union Free School District in Mastic Beach on Long Island, New York with religious discrimination by preventing Joshua â€“ a second grade student â€“ from sharing his religious beliefs at Tangier Smith Elementary School.
The suit contends that Joshuaâ€™s teacher prohibited the student from distributing material to students during non-instructional time at school.
The lawsuit states that in October, the teacher stopped Joshua from handing out a booklet entitled â€œGod is Our Shelter and Strengthâ€ in response to the September 11th tragedy to fellow students after school saying the material might offend some parents. Further, the suit contends that after Joshua distributed religious materials to students concerning Halloween, Joshuaâ€™s parents were told by school officials that students were not permitted to distribute religious material to fellow students in school.
In a letter sent to Joshuaâ€™s parents in November 2001, Deputy Superintendent Paul Casciano stated that students â€œshould not be subjected to the influences of any particular religious group.â€
â€œIt is clear the school district has targeted religious speech and is attempting to remove it from the school,â€ said McCarthy. â€œOur client wants to distribute material during non-instructional time â€“ before or after school, or during recess. The problem is that school officials simply cannot target speech because it is religious in nature and transform the school into a religious-free zone. This is a case about free speech and equal rights and weâ€™re confident the court will protect these constitutional principles.â€
The suit names as defendants the William Floyd Union Free School District, the Superintendent, Deputy Superintendent and the principal of Tangier Smith Elementary School. The suit contends the actions and policy of the school district violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and requests that court declare the actions of the school district invalid and unconstitutional. At the same time, the suit requests that the court issue a preliminary and permanent injunction to prevent school officials from continuing to violate the constitutional rights of the student.
The ACLJ is an international public interest law firm and educational organization that specializes in religious liberty work. The ACLJ is headquartered in Virginia Beach, VA and the web address is www.aclj.org.