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By Scott Tibbs, January 6th, 2004

"Political Correctness" claims another victim

Agape Press reports that a New Jersey pre-kindergartener was prohibited from distributing candy canes to his peers.

Whatever the courts rule, this was a clear violation of the First Amendment. Confiscation of the candy canes and the pencils violated both the free speech and religious freedom rights of Daniel Walz. (Side note: read the Snopes page on the candy cane legend.) The First Amendment does not prohibit government from restricting free speech or freedom of religion unless someone is on public property, it prohibits government from restricting free speech and freedom of religion period.

Arguments that this child is being "exploited" are asinine. Had the school not confiscated his property, there would be no lawsuit. What is more injurious to a child is when "teachers" take away items he is passing out to his classmates as a gesture of good will, making the child feel as though he has done something wrong.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports:

Armando V. Riccio, a lawyer of the board of education, said Daniel would not have been allowed to hand out promotional items for a store or a political candidate at school lest it appear the school was supporting that product or that candidate.

"The considerations had nothing to do with viewpoint," Riccio said. "They had to do with endorsements."

How inane. No one would reasonably conclude that the school was endorsing the message on cards and pencils a five year old child had brought from home.

In this case, "separation of church and state" (a phrase that appears nowhere in the Constitution, by the way) has gone too far. The First Amendment was written not to ensure freedom from religion, but freedom of religion. The First Amendment was never intended to keep private individuals from expressing their religious faith, it was to prevent the government from endorsing a specific religion. Walz was in a public place. He was not infringing on anyone's right to be left alone in his or her own home, nor was he disrupting the educational process. I have yet to hear a legitimate argument of why it's acceptable to censor religious speech and violate freedom of religion so some people's fragile feeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeelings won't be hurt.

Follow-up: January 10th, 2004

Following up on an earlier post: Some people have a fundamental misunderstanding of what "freedom of religion" means. Freedom of religion does not mean freedom from religion.

Yes, this sounds like a bumper sticker. Let me explain further. Under the Constitution, you have the right to practice any religion you choose. You have the right to not practice any religion at all. That does not give you the right to infringe on someone else's freedom of religion in order for you, your children, or anyone else to not have to be exposed to it. This is not Red China or the former Soviet Union, where secularism was enforced by the power of the state.

The "establishment clause" of the First Amendment is not a command to purge religion from the public square. It is not unconstitutional to allow children to pass out candy canes and pencils with religious messages on them. Schools, because of their mission, may enact some "time, place, and manner" restrictions to make sure that the educational process is not interfered with. However, schools may not prohibit religious expression.

What the "establishment clause" does prohibit is government endorsement of a religious message. The school may not pass out religious tracts to students. The students, however, are not the government, and their rights to free speech and freedom of religion are protected by the constitution.

"But the courts rules against Daniel Walz and his family." It doesn't matter what the courts say. The only thing that matters is what the Constitution says, and that is: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." No ruling by any court, from a county court to the Supreme Court, can or will change this. Only an amendment to the Constitution can change this.