Proselytizing: It Ain’t a Dirty Word at School
- By Alliance Defending Freedom
- Posted Nov 6, 2012
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By Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Matthew Sharp
Among the more persistent myths pervading the passageways of public schools is the permissibility of pupils participating in the p-word – proselytizing. (Did you see what I did there?)
Over the years, many schools have turned proselytizing into a bad word at school. You can’t say it, you can’t do it, and you better not have a flyer that does it. In fact, the Hillsborough County School District in Florida even went so far as to enact a policy prohibiting any religious flyer that contained a “proselytizing message (i.e. promote the benefits of the specific religion).”
So when J.G., an elementary student at Lewis Elementary School, tried to hand out an invitation to a religious Easter Egg Hunt to his friends at school, the principal prohibited him from doing so because the invitation was “not age appropriate and contained a proselytizing message.”
Now we will skip over the absurdity of an invitation to an Easter Egg Hunt (you can see it here) not being age appropriate and consider this critical constitutional question: Can the school stop a student from handing out an invitation that the school believes to be religious proselytizing?
No. So held the district court, which ruled that the school district’s policy banning proselytizing “was unconstitutional as view-point based discrimination because enforcement targeted proselytizing messages solely from a religious perspective.”
The court recognized that proselytizing is not a dirty word; it simply means “to convert from one religion, belief, opinion, or party” or “to recruit members for an institution, team, or group.” So when I try to convince you to vote for my candidate for president, I’m proselytizing. When I try to get you to change your opinion about my favorite sports team, I’m proselytizing. And when I recruit you to join the local Boy Scouts troop, I’m proselytizing.
For the school to allow all of these types of proselytizing, but then prohibit religious proselytizing (in the form of an invitation to an Easter Egg Hunt), was to engage in religious discrimination. And that is not allowed in any school.
So don’t listen to those who would say you can’t do the p-word at school. A ban on religious proselytizing is nothing more than a ban on religious speech. And the right to religious speech is one that students do not shed at the school house gate.
Author: Alliance Defending Freedom