Two York County schools accused of violating students’ religious freedom

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Spring Grove Area and Eastern York school districts allegedly violated first amendment rights to speak freely on religion in schools, according to letters sent Tuesday by the Independence Law Center. They were among 55 districts across the state that received letters by the center alleging unconstitutional policies. photo illustration Bill Kalina (Photo: Bill Kalina, The York Dispatch)

Two Pennsylvania school districts are violating First Amendment rights of students to freely discuss religion in schools, a conservative organization alleged earlier this month in a letter to the districts.

The York Dispatch reports that Spring Grove Area and Eastern York were among dozens of districts across the state that heard from the Harrisburg-based Independence Law Center, a not-for-profit that seeks out cases of Christians being denied their free speech rights.

According to the letters, the organization will file a federal suit if the districts don’t cease what the center calls constitutional violations by April 1.

“Instead of equal treatment, many schools have treated students’ religious speech like dangerous asbestos — to be cordoned off and eliminated from our schools,” stated Jeremy Samek, senior counsel for the law center, in a press release.

Eastern York’s letter targets two districtwide policies that the organization says prohibit free expression: Community Policy 913, which states that students cannot distribute any materials that promote or denigrate a religion or its practices, or are derogatory toward any other religion; and Pupils Policy 220, which states that students cannot “establish the supremacy of a particular religious denomination, sect or point of view.”

Spring Grove was singled out for language similar to Policy 220 in its school handbook.

Often, school district policies and handbooks are based on guidance issued by the Pennsylvania School Board Association.

The law center last year won cases against three districts for alleged discriminatory activities, including Mechanicsburg Area School District, which was taken to federal court for forbidding students from handing out Bibles at lunch.

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