ST. PAUL, Minn. — An evangelical group has sued St. Paul schools to
overturn its ban on religious fliers, contending the First Amendment gives the
group the same right as Boy Scout troops and Little League teams that distribute
recruitment material at schools.
While administrators acknowledge the district's ban on materials of a
sectarian nature, a school lawyer said the district's opposition to the St. Paul
Area Evangelicals' flier is that it asks parents to take their children out of
class each week.
The evangelical group runs Crossroads Ministries, which for 50 years has
offered Bible classes to students. It relies on a Minnesota law that allows
parents to release their children from school up to three hours a week for
Some schools in the district had allowed distribution in past years,
according to the lawsuit, but the district now restricts access completely.
"St. Paul school district has chosen to allow nonschool groups to distribute
information to parents announcing activities and other opportunities for
students," said Jordan Lorence, an attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, an
Arizona-based Christian civil rights group that's representing the churches.
"Once St. Paul schools opens up that means of flier distribution, the First
Amendment requires them not to discriminate against religious groups and
If the district has a problem allowing students to use in-school time for
religious education, it should take up the issue with the state Legislature,
Jeff Lalla, attorney for the school district, says groups like the Boy Scouts
or sports leagues are allowed to advertise on school grounds because their
programs aren't held during school hours.
Just because state law allows students to miss school for religious
instruction programs, "that doesn't mean we have to advertise that they're
available," Lalla said.
A 2001 district policy stated that administrators can't use staff or school
property "to assist in the distribution of religious release time information to
But First Amendment experts say the district could face problems if it's
trying to limit what's distributed on school grounds based on content.
"If they are letting virtually everyone else who has programs for kids have
access, there's a pretty good argument this is a designated forum and they can't
discriminate against the religious group based on the content of the speech,"
said Teresa Nelson, legal counsel for Minnesota chapter of the American Civil