WEST BEND, Wis. School officials have agreed to allow West Bend East High School students to distribute Christmas cards containing a religious message at the school under certain restrictions.
Mathew D. Staver, president and general counsel of the pro-religion group Liberty Counsel of Orlando, Fla., said yesterday the move came after his organization threatened to sue the district, accusing it of violating the students' free speech.
But Cassandra Schug, the school's principal, described it as "a non-issue."
"The students brought this in and asked if they could distribute them. They were told, 'Absolutely yes' they could put it on the community bulletin board. We would never trample on anyone's right to free speech," Schug said.
School district superintendent David Shapley the students had been told they could distribute the cards only at a site near the community bulletin board used for postings that are not school-sponsored.
"They'd love to make this into a big issue. But we agreed to it before they contacted us," he said of Staver's group.
Staver said an attorney for his organization was preparing to board a flight to Wisconsin to file a federal lawsuit, asking for a temporary restraining order, when the matter was settled.
Courts have long held that high school students have a constitutional right to free speech "during noninstitutional time," Staver said.
Students can legally exercise that right before and after school and between classes, he said.
Jeffrey Weigand, a member of the Bible group at East High School that sponsored the Christmas card project, said that when he asked Schug about distributing Christmas cards, she effectively rejected his project.
Shapley said the district had rejected the students' request to hand out the cards at the entrances to the building to prevent a situation in which "people cannot enter until you got what they were distributing."
The agreement allows the students to distribute the cards tomorrow from 6:45 a.m. until classes start at 7:30 a.m. at the bulletin board.