Huntington Beach City School District is being sued in federal court because an elementary school principal allegedly barred two students from passing out fliers promoting “Bring Your Bible to School Day.”
However, district Superintendent Gregg Haulk counters that the complaint contains “inaccuracies,” that the second and fourth graders were merely directed to follow standard procedures when it comes to distributing materials on campus and that the boys indeed did pass out fliers once those rules were followed and explained to their parents.
Not so, based on the lawsuit filed Monday in the federal court in Santa Ana by Freedom X, a Los Angeles-based group dedicated to “protecting conservative and religious freedom of expression,” on behalf of Jason and Holly Bausch. Click here to read the complaint.
It alleges that 8-year-old Nieka and 10-year-old Micah Bausch sought permission to distribute fliers that promote the Focus on the Family-sponsored event during lunch and recess at John R. Peterson Elementary School. Bring Your Bible to School Day is “designed to empower students to celebrate religious freedom—and share God’s hope with their friends—by taking a simple action: bringing their Bible to school,” reads an email from
Project Freedom X.
However, Peterson Elementary Principal Constance E. Polhemus allegedly told the boys’ mother, “As a public school we cannot approve the distribution of religious materials to students during school hours.” That violated 10-year-old Micah and 8-year-old second Nieka’s free speech and free exercise of religion rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, charges Freedom X.
“Under well-settled constitutional law, the First Amendment applies to all student oral expression and literature distribution during non-instructional time, regardless of religious content,” reads the organization’s email. “School officials may not prohibit this expression out of fear that allowing religious speech will offend some members of the community.”
“Principle Polhemus and the Huntington Beach City School District are about to learn a hard lesson in constitutional law,” vows Bill Becker, the Freedom X president and chief counsel . “Students, regardless of grade level, have a First Amendment right to express a religious viewpoint to another student, including the right to distribute religious fliers, without fear.”
Becker then piles on.
“One wonders how school administrators come to believe that the voluntary expression of religious viewpoints in a public school is somehow forbidden but everything else (including the perverse indoctrination of LGBT propaganda) is permissible.”
“After reading the allegations in the complaint we believe there are at least two inaccuracies that become the entire basis for the complaint,” writes Haulk in an email to the Weekly. “The first inaccuracy is that HBCSD allows all other fliers that are not of a religious nature to be handed out at our schools. This is not accurate. HBCSD must first preview any fliers that might be distributed at any of our schools, and if approved, the school provides direction in regards to the distribution so it does not create a disturbance to our learning environment. As a district we attempt to limit the number of materials that are sent home with our students and are careful in regards to content.
“Secondly, the complaint states that the students were not allowed to distribute their fliers which is also not accurate. The school checked with the District Office, and specifically the office of the Superintendent, and after checking with the District Office, the students we allowed to distribute the fliers.”
Haulk concedes that, “At first, when the students were attempting to hand out fliers on the school site, they were asked to stop. As previously stated, HBCSD does not allow any fliers to be passed out on school grounds without permission to ensure that there are no disruptions to our learning environment. Although I cannot comment on what Dr. Polhemus initially told the students, I do know that she checked with me after first talking to the students and she was directed to allow the students to distribute the fliers.”
The superintendent contends, “Dr. Polhemus followed those directions and communicated with the parents that the students would be allowed to distribute the fliers. It is my understanding that the students were made aware of this as well, and the following day they did indeed distribute the fliers at school to those students who were interested in taking one.”
Which makes the filing of a suit curious …
“Huntington Beach City School District is disappointed that this complaint was filed,” Haulk says. “We believed that we communicated with the parents in regards to this incident, and followed procedures in place at all of our schools to protect our learning environment for all of our valued students. HBCSD also believes that our actions were appropriate, and that in no way did we violate the 1st and 14th amendment rights of our students.”
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.