Flier Distribution Policy Is Ruled Unconstitutional

By Lori Aratani
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 11, 2006

A federal appeals court ruled yesterday that the Montgomery County public schools' policy for distributing fliers by community groups is unconstitutional because it gives school officials unlimited power to approve or reject materials.

The decision is the latest in the five-year battle between school officials and Child Evangelism Fellowship of Maryland, a Christian organization which sought to distribute fliers about its after-school Good News Club programs, which teach about the Bible.

In the 20-page decision, the three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote that the school system's policy governing flier distribution "imposes no guidelines as to how MCPS should exercise this unlimited discretion. This unbridled discretion requires that we sustain the CEF's challenge to the policy."

The school system initially rejected the group's request to distribute the fliers in 2001 because it considered the materials religious in nature. The group then sued, maintaining that the school policy discriminated against them while other organizations -- including parent-teacher groups and nonprofit youth sports leagues -- were allowed to distribute fliers to students.

Child Evangelism Fellowship's attorneys could not be reached to comment yesterday. School system officials said it was clear that the court did not understand the intent of the policy.

"They misinterpreted how the policy was intended to operate," said Judith Bresler, the school system's attorney. "I guess we were not clear enough when we articulated it. [The ruling] is a misinterpretation of the way we meant the policy to operate."

School Superintendent Jerry D. Weast said the school system will review the guidelines in light of the decision but added, "I continue to believe that the volume of material, unrelated to school, delivered home through the time and energy of our staff and students must be limited."

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