The U.S. Supreme Court has left the Scottsdale school board to determine on its own whether schools can send home fliers with religious messages.
The court on Tuesday turned down the Scottsdale Unified School District’s request that the justices clarify a May decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The appellate court had found the district was wrong to deny Bible camp operator Joseph Hills the same opportunity to send home fliers as groups with nonreligious messages. However, the court added that districts could restrict the proselytizing, or advocating religion, in fliers.
A lack of direction from the court could result in anything from a policy that allows all materials including religious messages go home, to strict guidelines that allow only the most basic nonadvocating information, said Walt Weber, senior attorney for the American Center for Law and Justice, one of Hills’ attorneys.
"They can either start treating religious speech in the same terms as other specific areas, or they can draw limits," he said. "Or, they can single out religious speech, in which case they might get sued."
The decision left the district unsure about what language to include in fliers, said spokesman Tom Herrmann, who said the governing board will discuss its fliers policy at 7 p.m. Tuesday. In September, the board placed a moratorium on all fliers except those for school-related events, which blocked groups including the nonprofit Boys and Girls Clubs and Scottsdale Prevention Institute from sending information home.
"What we will do is present the board with some options based on what other districts do," said Herrmann, who reviews fliers before they are sent home.
Governing board member Christine Schild said the moratorium was unnecessary.
"I’ve seen the decline in enrollment in child-friendly activities where the normal way of soliciting students is fliers in schools," she said.
Attorneys for Hills plan to ask the court to order the school district to pay their fees in the five-year case, which are in the "six-figure range," as well as additional damages in the "low fivefigure range."
Hills said he suffered the additional damages after his camp was not publicized through fliers and he had to go bankrupt, said senior attorney Gary McCaleb of the Scottsdale-based Alliance Defense Fund, another group representing Hills.
Hills, whose summer camp pamphlets advertised two Bible classes among 17 offered at his Desert Mountain Camp, now operates after-school woodworking classes.