HARRISBURG – A Christian-centered student organization in Mechanicsburg is suing its school district, superintendent and high school principal, claiming its free speech were violated when it was denied the opportunity to distribute its literature and Bibles in a school building.
Christians In Action Club filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania on Jan. 30 versus the Mechanicsburg Area School District (MASD), Superintendent Mark Leidy and Principal David Harris.
The club raised the issue of Administrative Regulation 220-0, which requires students to distribute non-school literature on public sidewalks bordering school property 30 minutes before the start of school or 30 minutes after the end of it.
The students, members of a Bible-based organization called the Christians In Action Club at Mechanicsburg Area Senior High School, believe this regulation is “overbroad and unconstitutionally grants unbridled discretion to Principal David Harris to deny or approve any student distribution of written materials.”
Furthermore, the students argue Harris discriminated against them under this exact premise on more than one occasion, when, at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, he first denied a request by the club to post flyers advertising the time and place of their meetings due to a Bible verse, Mark 16:15, being displayed on the flyers – and secondly, denied a request by the club to distribute Bibles to their classmates during lunch periods.
The plaintiffs say the rights they are seeking, which were extended to a number of other secular student organizations, were denied to them on the basis of their religion.
“Not only does MASD prohibit students from offering literature to other students unless approved, without any written guidelines to restrain the unbridled discretion of the principal, but it also completely prohibits students from expressions that ‘seek to establish the supremacy of a particular religious denomination, sect or point of view,” the lawsuit states.
“MASD prohibited the students in the Bible Club from offering the Bible to their classmates during the school day’s non-instructional time pursuant to its policies and practice. Plaintiffs challenge the district’s policies, Administrative Regulations, and Student Handbook, both facially and as applied. The District’s censorship of plaintiffs’ religious speech, and the Policies on which that censorship was based, violate the First and Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and the Pennsylvania Public School Code 22 Pa. Code Section 12.9.”
All parties involved in the litigation declined to comment to the Pennsylvania Record.
For facial violation of the free speech and exercises clauses of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution through overbreadth, unbridled discretion and viewpoint discrimination, the plaintiffs are seeking the following relief:
• A preliminary and permanent Injunction, restraining MASD, its officers, agents, employees, and all other persons acting in active concert with it, from enforcing MASD’s literature distribution policy;
• A declaratory judgment, declaring MASD’s literature distribution policy and practice unconstitutional, facially and as-applied, pursuant to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution;
• Final jurisdiction over the matter in question;
• Costs and expenses of this action, including a reasonable attorneys’ fees award, in accordance with 42 U.S.C. Section 1988;
• Nominal damages for the violation of the students’ constitutional rights;
• An issuance of the requested injunctive relief without a condition of bond or other security being required of the Bible Club; and
• Such other and further relief as the Court deems equitable and just.
The plaintiffs are represented by Curtis M. Schube, Jeremy L. Samek and Randall L. Wenger of Independence Law Center, in Harrisburg.
The defendants are represented by Gareth D. Pahowka and Gregory W. Bair II of Stock & Leader, in York.
U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania case 1:19-cv-00172
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at firstname.lastname@example.org