Groups Join School Defense Against Evangelic Flyer

July 3, 2003
Several national and local organizations of teachers, school board members, school administrators, civil liberty groups, and a local community athletic organization joined the defense against an evangelical religious group's efforts to force the Montgomery County Public Schools to distribute its recruitment flyers through the backpacks of elementary school students.

The groups support the Board of Education's efforts to uphold the constitutional requirements for a separation of church and state in public schools in arguing against a federal court appeal by the Child Evangelism Fellowship of Maryland.

The evangelic group has asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond to overturn a lower court's decision not to grant a preliminary injunction that would have compelled the school system to distribute the group's flyers, which attorneys for the Board of Education have called “proselytizing.” The religious group is being supported by the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division.

The amicus brief filed this week [Tuesday, July 2] by Americans United for Separation of Church and State said the preliminary injunction “would have called for public school employees to participate in advertising religious meetings designed to seek converts to the Christian faith.” Joining in this brief was the National Education Association, the Anti-Defamation League, the People for the American Way Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Area, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.

A second amicus brief filed by the National School Boards Association with the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, the National Parents and Teachers Association, and the American Association of School Administrators also included Montgomery Soccer, Inc., which has depended on being able to send notices home to parents through the schools about recreational opportunities for children.

School system staff are currently reviewing options that may affect the future availability of this distribution system for non-profit community groups during the school day should the federal courts require that teachers and students support the recruitment efforts of religious organizations by distributing their flyers.

The brief filed with Montgomery Soccer, Inc., said it is important that “local school boards maintain the autonomy to implement policies that do not infringe on constitutional free speech rights, while at the same time maintaining the constitutionally mandated neutrality in matters of religion essential to ensuring that fora for the dissemination of information from community groups continue to enjoy parental support.”

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