Nonprofit groups are hopeful informational fliers will be allowed to go home with Scottsdale students next year, depending on a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.
As early as January or as late as March, the court is expected to decide whether to accept a request by the Scottsdale Unified School District to clarify a May ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on what kinds of fliers schools can send home.
As read by the district’s attorneys, the case of Joseph Hills v. Scottsdale Unified requires school districts to treat religious material in the same manner as any other material. However, the court states districts should refuse pamphlets that proselytize or strongly push conversion or beliefs.
"I would say it’s probably going to be within the next 60 to 90 days in terms of whether they will accept a review of the case," said Mary Ellen Simonson, the district’s attorney. "One of the reasons the district’s policy prohibits religious speech altogether is because we did not want to appear to be favoring or disfavoring any particular religion or religious message."
If the court refuses the case, the district governing board will rewrite the rules Simonson said.
The school board in September placed a moratorium on fliers except those for school-sponsored events while awaiting court direction.
On Thursday, the American Center for Law and Justice filed a brief telling the court the ruling is simple and a clear-cut requirement for school districts to treat religious private speech the same as other private beliefs.
The center, which represented Bible camp operator Joseph Hills, whose fliers were refused by the district because of their religious content and pronouncements, reads the 9th Circuit’s ruling as advising school districts to reject material that proselytizes if religious proselytizing is prohibited, or to let all fliers through. According to the center’s brief, Scottsdale has allowed other groups to push their beliefs while singling out religion.
Simonson said religious material has to be treated differently under the First Amendment and a need for a separation of church and schools.
Local nonprofit groups hope a quick resolution will spell the end of the moratorium.
"Now that we’re not able to do it, I have noticed a decline in basketball registration numbers," said Jennifer Kennedy, marketing specialist for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Scottsdale.