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Published: Friday, 8/13/2004

Schools may pass out religious flyers to students


CINCINNATI - A Van Wert County school district is allowed to resume distributing flyers promoting religious events to students, a federal appeals court ruled yesterday.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower-court decision that found the Crestview Local School District, based in Convoy, violated the Constitution's prohibition against a government establishment of religion by putting religious material in students' mailboxes.

Judge Deborah Cook, writing for the unanimous three-judge panel, concluded that the school district does not endorse religion simply by distributing flyers advertising religious activities. Other federal courts have reached a similar conclusion, wrote Judge Cook, a former Ohio Supreme Court justice.

The district, which serves about 1,000 students, plans to resume the distributions unless the case is appealed, district Superintendent John Basinger said yesterday. Classes resume Aug. 24.

"We're excited that the ruling was in our favor," Mr. Basinger said. "We're cautiously optimistic that this is behind us."

A 2002 ruling by U.S. District Judge James Carr of Toledo had stopped the school district from distributing material from churches and affiliated groups. The district had distributed those along with flyers from other nonprofit organizations, including the American Red Cross, 4-H Club, and sports leagues, Mr. Basinger said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio brought the case in May, 2001. A parent, Steve Rusk, had complained his fifth-grade son was being taught religion in school and one day came home carrying a Bible. The ACLU asserted that a class violated the Constitutional separation of church and state.

The district agreed to ban that class. But the matter of distributing groups' flyers from groups about summer Bible camps and other religious activities remained unresolved.

The school district contended the material was distributed after it was scrutinized to ensure it did not advocate the benefits of a particular religion.

The ACLU likely will appeal the ruling, said Scott Greenwood, an attorney who argued the case for the group and represented Mr. Rusk.

"This decision is just wrong," Mr. Greenwood said. Students' mailboxes were stuffed full of flyers, he said.

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