School Board Will Reconsider Proposal Forbidding Religious Flyers at Schools

SOUTHERN LEHIGH HIGH SCHOOL – A proposal to ban religious literature from community groups turned an otherwise quiet school board meeting into a lively debate here Monday night.

The proposed policy is intended to facilitate communication between students and the community by allowing community groups to solicit student participation in their activities, for example Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. 

But when Jeffrey Dimmig pointed out that the proposal forbade all flyers of a religious nature, he questioned the policy’s propriety.  “I don’t know why we’re discriminating against religious institutions.”  “I don’t think that’s Constitutional,” Dimmig said. 

Superintendent Joseph Liberati and Assistant Superintendent Leah Christman consider a policy excluding religious literature from community groups at the school board's Oct. 11 meeting. Photo by Judd Wilson, Southern Lehigh Tribune.

William Miracle questioned the wisdom of allowing public schools to become recruiting grounds for religious activities.  However, Solicitor James Bartholomew pointed out that “if you create a limited public forum…you cannot discriminate” against religious groups while permitting secular groups.

Vice President Michael Eddinger played the devil’s advocate, by bringing up whether or not the school district could have any restrictions, asking “are illegal organizations excluded?”  Treasurer Dr. Elizabeth Stelts indicated that groups advocating illegal or harmful activities could be forbidden access.  Miracle said the superintendent ultimately had the responsibility and authority to decide which groups to allow.  Eddinger advised that “if the law says we lose complete control” over what groups can communicate with students on school grounds, then he would oppose the policy. 

President Corinne Gunkle said she had a concern that people would feel “upset that their child is coming home” with literature of a religion other than their own.  “I think people could be offended,” added Gunkle.  She indicated that she would want to deny all groups access if the school district could not forbid religious organizations access.  However, William Hayes asked, “can we even say we won’t do it anymore since we did it in the past?” 

Dr. Thomas McLoughlin advised that the proposal go back to the policy committee, which the entire board agreed to do.  Bartholomew said he would take a look at the proposal in light of relevant case law.  

The next school board meeting is scheduled to be held at the Lehigh Career and Technical Institute on Oct. 25 at 7:30 p.m.

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