News in Brief: A Washington Roundup

April 09, 1997 3 min read

Supreme Court Rejects Religious-Flier Case

The U.S. Supreme Court declined last week to hear an appeal from two parents who argued that a Wisconsin school district violated their son’s constitutional rights when they refused him permission to distribute a flier about a church youth meeting.

Ronald and Ann Muller of Racine, Wis., had argued in their lawsuit that the principal at their son’s elementary school denied permission for the flier because its subject was religious.

But the district said permission was denied because the invitation to the church meeting was not school-supported or related to school programs.

A federal district judge ruled for the Muller family, but a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit sided with the school district. The court found the district’s rules for evaluating outside literature reasonable.

U.S. Circuit Judge Daniel A. Manion, in a section of his opinion not joined by the other two judges, said that elementary school students do not share the same free-expression rights under the First Amendment that high school students have. “Grammar schools are more about learning, including learning to sit still and be polite, than about robust debate,” Judge Manion wrote last year.

The Supreme Court refused without comment on March 30 to hear the parents’ appeal in Muller v. Jefferson Lighthouse School (Case No. 96-1199).

President Asks for Review of Liquor Ads

In line with his efforts to thwart tobacco advertising directed at young people, President Clinton last week asked the Federal Communications Commission to consider whether liquor commercials on television should be severely limited.

Mr. Clinton asked FCC Chairman Reed Hundt in an April 1 letter to investigate whether advertisements for distilled spirits, combined with the wine and beer commercials already on the air, would provoke more young people to start drinking. Last fall, the liquor industry lifted a self-imposed, 50-year-old ban on television ads.

“These actions are aimed at helping parents to protect their children better and to help young people deal better with the temptation of bad influences,” the president said at a news conference last week.

Makers of distilled spirits complained, however, that hard liquor was singled out, sending the wrong message that some forms of alcohol are “softer.” The National Association of Broadcasters also balked at any government attempt to dictate “appropriate forms of speech.” An NAB spokeswoman added that the president’s action would have little practical effect because most networks have their own policies against broadcasting hard-liquor commercials.

GAO To Study Educational Technology Funding

The General Accounting Office will conduct a one-year study to determine how schools and school districts are financing educational technology, including the initial investments and the ongoing costs of using computers and computer networks.

The study will focus on five districts, including the Roswell, N.M., school district and the Davidson County, N.C., schools. Three other districts have yet to be named but will be in Washington state, New Hampshire, and Ohio, said Barbara Billinghurst, a Seattle-based senior evaluator for the GAO, which is the watchdog arm of Congress. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., requested the study.

Though not a nationwide study, it will give state and federal policymakers “a judgmental sample” of the funding sources used to pay for technology and the ways that districts differ, said Carlotta Joiner, the director of the GAO’s education- and employment-issues division in Washington. It will also examine the barriers that schools and districts face in obtaining funding and the strategies they use to overcome those barriers.