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K.A. v. Pocono Mountain School District

Description:  A Pennsylvania school district prevented a 5th-grade student from distributing invitations to a Christmas party at her church.

Tuesday, Mar 12, 2013

Attorney sound bites:  David Cortman  |  Matt Sharp

PITTSBURGH — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit Tuesday unanimously affirmed a lower court’s order that found two policies at a Pennsylvania school district unconstitutional after they were used to prevent a 5th-grade student from distributing invitations to a Christmas party at her church.

“Public schools should encourage, not shut down, the free exchange of ideas,” said Senior Counsel David Cortman, who argued before the court in October of last year. “Those ideas include a 5th-grader’s invitations to a religious event. The 3rd Circuit was correct in striking down the school district’s unconstitutional ban.”

“America’s public schools should recognize the constitutionally protected freedom of students who wish to hand out these kinds of fliers,” said Legal Counsel Matt Sharp. “A flier cannot be banned just because some element of religious faith is a part of it. On the contrary, the First Amendment specifically protects religious speech.”

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed suit in March 2011 on behalf of the Barrett Elementary Center student, identified in the lawsuit as “K.A.”

The school district relied on two literature distribution policies, numbers 220 and 913, to justify its ban on the student’s fliers. It attempted to argue that the First Amendment freedoms of elementary-age students can be severely limited, but the 3rd Circuit rejected that argument, finding that “‘it is difficult to identify a constitutional justification for cabining the First Amendment protections…to older students.’” The court concluded, “The fact that K.A. was only in the fifth-grade and the invitation originated from her church does not mandate a different approach.”

The court also noted in its opinion that “the School District’s failure in this appeal to identify any disruption caused by K.A.’s invitation, makes it reasonably likely that K.A. will prevail in this litigation…. We also hold that the original and revised versions of Policy 220 and 913 are unconstitutional as applied to the form of student expression at issue here.”

Randall Wenger, chief counsel of the Harrisburg-based Independence Law Center and one of nearly 2,200 allied attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom, is serving as co-counsel in the suit, K.A. v. Pocono Mountain School District.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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Previous News Releases

Legal Documents

Denial of motion for reconsideration: K.A. v Pocono Mountain School District
Complaint: K.A. v. Pocono Mountain School District
Preliminary injunction order: K.A. v. Pocono Mountain School District

Related Resources

ABOUT David Cortman

David A. Cortman serves as senior counsel and vice president of U.S. litigation with Alliance Defending Freedom. He has been practicing law since 1996, and currently supervises a team of over 40 attorneys and legal staff who specialize in constitutional law, focusing on religious freedom, sanctity of life, and marriage and family. Cortman has litigated hundreds of constitutional law cases including two victories at the U.S. Supreme Court. In Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, he secured a 7-2 victory that overturned Missouri’s denial of a religious school’s participation in a state funding program. Cortman also argued Reed v. Town of Gilbert, securing a 9-0 ruling that prohibits the government from discriminating against religious speech. A member of the bar in Georgia, Florida, Arizona, and the District of Columbia, he is also admitted to practice in over two dozen federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. Cortman obtained his J.D. magna cum laude from Regent University School of Law.

ABOUT Matt Sharp

Matt Sharp serves as senior counsel and state government relations national director with Alliance Defending Freedom, where he focuses on state and local legislative matters. Since joining ADF in 2010, Sharp has authored federal and state legislation, regularly provides testimony and legal analysis on how proposed legislation will impact constitutional freedoms, and advises governors, legislators, and state and national policy organizations on the importance of laws and policies that protect First Amendment rights. He has testified before the United States Congress on the importance of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Sharp has also worked on important cases advancing religious freedom and free speech. He has won cases upholding the rights of students to form religious clubs, invite classmates to church, and even perform a religious song at a school talent show. He authored an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of nearly 9,000 students, parents, and community members asking the Court to uphold students’ right to privacy against government intrusion. Sharp earned his J.D. in 2006 from the Vanderbilt University School of Law. A member of the bar in Georgia and Tennessee, he is also admitted to practice in several federal courts.