Seven high-school students in Westfield, Mass., have been suspended solely for passing out candy canes containing religious messages.
Here’s the background on this case: In December, the student members of the L.I.F.E. Bible Club decided to pass out candy canes to their fellow students. The candy had attached messages containing Scripture verses and told the story of a candy cane maker who wanted to invent a candy that was a witness to Christ. The distribution of the candy and the attached literature was to occur one day prior to the Christmas break on Dec. 19.
Members of the Bible club decided to ask their principal for permission to distribute the candy canes during non-class time. The principal refused the request, saying that the Christian message contained in the literature may be “offensive” to other students. He then consulted with the school superintendent who agreed that other students might be offended by the Christian message. The request was denied.
The students had a tough call to make. They believe that God has called them to share the Gospel message with their classmates. Should they abide by the school’s decision or follow through with what they see as a greater calling?
The students determined that they would go ahead and distribute the small gifts, handing out about 450 candy canes to fellow students during non-class time.
After these seven students returned from Christmas break on Jan. 2, they were summoned to the principal’s office and told that they would be suspended for their actions.
The courageous young people now stand at a crossroads that could impact the rest of their lives. For example, senior Sharon Sitler, a member of the National Honor Society, is currently in the process of applying to several colleges and universities for admission and scholarships. She faces the prospect of being removed from the National Honor Society because of the school’s disciplinary actions against her which could place her at a disadvantage when she competes for admission and scholarships.
Another student, Paul Sitler, is currently a freshman at Westfield High School. He has aspirations to attend the United States Air Force Academy upon graduation. Again, the disciplinary action taken against him may result in his disqualification from any military academy.
My friend Mathew Staver, founder and general counsel at the Orlando, Fla.-based Liberty Counsel, has filed a federal lawsuit against the Westfield Public Schools, the superintendent and principal. The lawsuit requests that the policy and actions of the school district and officials be declared unconstitutional and that the suspensions be immediately removed from the files.
Mr. Staver, who is representing these students, says this case underscores several important principles.
“These students faced a dilemma in which they had to make a decision whether to compromise their Christian beliefs by remaining silent or to stand up for Christ and face the consequences,” he said. “These courageous students chose to do what was right rather than what was expedient.”
I agree that this case reveals the blatant hostility by school officials toward the Christian message and exposes the ignorance of these officials – who are representative of educrats across the country – regarding the constitutional rights of religious students.
Staver, who has represented dozens of students in similar cases, notes that as far back as 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that public-school students do not shed their constitutional rights when they enter the schoolhouse gate. Why should they? These students are citizens under the Constitution and are protected by the First Amendment right to freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
The fact is, students have the right to free speech in the form of verbal or written expression during non-instructional class time. And yes, students have just as much right to speak on religious topics as they do on secular topics – no matter what the ACLU might propagate. Quite simply, school officials may not censor religious or Christian messages solely because another person might be “offended.”
Virtually every day I learn about Christian students who are persecuted and mistreated because they dared to voice their beliefs. I thank God for every one of these young people. They are to be admired. I am committed to doing everything I can to make known their trials and to help them win their rights to endure in their faith.