By Drew Zahn
A school superintendant in Oklahoma faces a lawsuit today for not only forbidding a community-led Christian club from placing fliers in the elementary school, but also for allegedly telling the Kids for Christ program not to advertise in the community either, lest it “stir up trouble.”
The Owasso Kids for Christ club has been conducting voluntary, before-school Bible studies and a variety of family activities for students and parents at the Northeast Elementary School in Owasso, Okla., since November of last year.
But in April, when the club requested permission to distribute a take-home flier for students and parents advertising a Christian martial arts event, the flier’s phrase “Reaching the world for Christ!” caught the attention of District Superintendant Dr. Clark Ogilvie.
Despite the fact that the school allows various community groups – such as the Girl Scouts, the Young Rembrandts and the chamber of commerce – to distribute literature, post fliers, have tables at an annual open house event and even use the public address system for making announcements about community events, Ogilvie denied Kids for Christ access to all these forms of advertisement.
School officials cited a district policy manual governing outside adverstisments that states, “No literature will be distributed that contains primarily religious, objectionable, or political overtones.”
According to court documents, Ogilvie further explained that such restrictions were necessary to keep “bad clubs” like the Ku Klux Klan out of the school.
Furthermore, a lawsuit currently filed in U.S. District Court alleges, though Kids for Christ has already received permission to host a series of events at the school in the upcoming academic year, Ogilvie actively discouraged the group from publicizing its activities in the community – even through advertisements in local newspapers or signs posted on telephone poles – because he believed such publicity would “stir up trouble.”
The district’s attorney also sent a letter to Kids for Christ, further explaining why the group could no longer use the bulletin board, literature table and PA announcement system afforded to other community groups:
“The allowing of such activities to impressionable elementary students during the regular school day and while school is in session would certainly raise the issue as to endorsement of religion,” the attorney wrote. “In fact, it is difficult to see how an elementary student could discern that [Kids for Christ] is not endorsed by the school district when such activities on behalf of [Kids for Christ] would be occurring by the school district to a captive elementary student audience.”
Τhe Kids for Christ club, however, which is regularly attended by 60 or more students at its weekly meetings, is now suing the school district with the help of attorneys from the Alliance Defense Fund, seeking only the same access that other community groups receive.
“A Christian organization should not be targeted for discrimination when it is simply seeking to publicize its voluntary meetings just like other community groups do,” said ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Matt Sharp. “The district would have people believe that the Constitution requires a religious organization to be singled out in this manner when, in reality, the Constitution strictly prohibits this type of discrimination. The courts have repeatedly upheld this.”
According to court documents, Kids for Christ as has already reseved space and obtained the necessary permission to hold a series of three parent-student activities at the school during the coming year, but the group is nonetheless being denied the opportunity to promote the events.
Sharp pointed out the district, for example, approved a flier from the YMCA that even declared its mission: “To put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all.”
“Just as it rightly allowed the YMCA’s flier, the district must allow the ‘Kids for Christ’ club’s fliers and other activity announcements,” Sharp explained. “The district is very clearly wrong in its view of the First Amendment.”