A school principal did not violate the First Amendment rights of a 5th grader when she barred him from distributing candy-cane-shaped Christmas ornaments with an attached card promoting Christianity, a federal appeals court ruled last week.
The student, Joel Curry, had sought to sell the “candy canes,” which actually were pipe cleaners and beads shaped to look like the Christmas confection and meant as ornaments, at a school event in 2003. The principal of the public Handley School in Saginaw, Mich., barred the religious messages because she considered them inappropriate at an event that was part of instructional time.
In a lawsuit backed by the Alliance Defense Fund, the boy’s parents sued the Saginaw district and the principal, alleging that the boy’s First Amendment free expression rights had been violated.
A unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Detroit, upheld legal immunity for the principal Jan. 16. The court said the school’s desire “to avoid subjecting young children to an unsolicited religious promotional message that might conflict with what they are taught at home qualifies as a valid educational purpose.”
A version of this article appeared in the January 23, 2008 edition of Education Week