The Scottsdale Unified School District is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to provide guidelines for determining which religious fliers should go home in students’ backpacks.
The school district filed a petition Nov. 6 to sort through what the governing board has considered a legal quagmire created by a May ruling of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The governing board has imposed a moratorium on most school fliers since Sept. 18. Fliers regarding school-related or sponsored events continue to go home.
The appellate court ruled in May that schools can’t stop distribution of literature because it has a religious viewpoint. But, the judges ruled, certain language that seeks to convert or indoctrinate should be removed.
As public information officer for the school district, Carol Hughes sorts through 500 to 600 community fliers a year. "We’re asking for a clarification because you have to use some judgment in determining whether a flier is approved," she said.
The case against the district was filed by Joseph Hills, a former Bible camp operator whose brochures were not distributed.
One of Hills’ attorneys, Gary McCaleb of the Scottsdale-based Alliance Defense Fund, said he likely will file a response to the Supreme Court, although he doesn’t expect the case to be picked up by the court.
McCaleb said the Supreme Court resolved the issue in the 1981 Widmar vs. Vincent case. Justices ruled that all brochures should be treated equally and go home unless presenting "fighting words" or threats.
"Instead of doing their job educating, they are running back to court and in our view really wasting taxpayers money again."
Mesa Unified School District’s attorney Tom Pickrell said all school districts could benefit from a clear definition as to what they are allowed to send home.
"That is the troubling part," he said. "It seems to invite administrators to kind of exercise editorial control over advertisements and make the distinction between material truly in the nature of advertising and material that crosses that line and becomes proselytizing."