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Meet Calvary Chapel

Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley is a church in Dayton, Nevada whose ministry includes a broad range of activities for local community members. Calvary Chapel sponsors a robust program of youth events throughout the year, such as outdoor excursions, “Youth Nights” (including foosball, air hockey, basketball, and free food), and a “Harvest Party.” The events are free of charge and open to all youth.

School District Singles Out Religious Organizations for Discrimination

The Lyon County School District, near Calvary Chapel, has a flyer distribution program that allows organizations from their community to provide information to parents and students about local events and activities available to them.

Wanting to give all local students an opportunity to attend its events, Calvary Chapel created flyers about its activities for parents and students. The flyers include detailed information about the events, as well as an event permission slip and medical release form.

However, in July 2017, the Lyon County School Board adopted a new policy prohibiting the district from distributing any flyers or announcements that “promote a religious opinion/belief.” Thereafter, Calvary Chapel included a disclaimer on its flyers explaining the school district does not endorse the Calvary Chapel or the activity represented in the flyer.

The school district has distributed flyers about outdoor programs, soccer leagues, and Halloween parties from a variety of local, community organizations. However, despite the disclaimer that the school district does not endorse the activity, the district refused to distribute flyers about Calvary Chapel’s Outdoor Excursions program, Harvest Festival, and Youth Nights (which includes basketball and air hockey), simply because the flyers include phrases like “worship music” and “devotional.”

“Not only is this practice unconstitutional, it defeats the very purpose of providing community information,” said Amber Williams, Associate Attorney with Lipson Neilson. “By removing all religious references from the flyers, parents and students have no way of knowing about the nature of the events and cannot make informed decisions about whether to attend.”

Legal Precedent and First Liberty Action

The First Amendment requires a school district to be neutral toward religion. The U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that a school district violates the law when it suppresses or excludes private speech, simply because the speech expresses a religious viewpoint.

Further, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit—in which the Lyon County School District is located—has also ruled that if a school district allows secular organizations to distribute information to its parents and students, it cannot refuse to distribute information about programs simply because they are offered from a religious perspective. Hills v. Scottsdale Unified Schl. Dist. (9th Cir., 2003)

In November 2017, First Liberty and Lipson Nielson sent a demand letter to the Lyon County School Board and superintendent of schools, asking the district allow Calvary Chapel to participate equally in the school’s community flyer distribution program and to change its policy to comply with the law.

“We hope the school district will let our client participate in the community information program just like everyone else by ending its discriminatory policy,” said Stephanie Taub, Counsel for First Liberty. “The First Amendment requires school districts to be neutral toward religion. They may not single out a church’s flyers for censorship, and they may not force a church to scrub the flyers of any religious language. That is hostility toward religion.”

Press Release
For Immediate Release: November 29, 2017
Contact: Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.org
Direct: 972-941-4453

 

 

Church Told Flyers Are Too Religious, Barred from Sharing
Community Events Information with Students

Attorneys say school district is unlawfully discriminating against religious speech


YERINGTON, NV—Today, attorneys with First Liberty Institute and Lipson, Neilson, Cole, Seltzer & Garin, P.C. (“Lipson Neilson”) sent a letter to the Lyon County School District in Yerington, Nevada demanding the school district allow its client, Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley, to participate equally in the school’s community flyer distribution program and change its policy to comply with the law. The Lyon County School District allows community organizations from a variety of perspectives to distribute flyers to parents and students about extracurricular events and activities. Yet the school district’s new policy has required Calvary Chapel, a local church, to remove all references to its religious perspective or cease distributing flyers altogether.

“We hope the school district will let our client participate in the community information program just like everyone else by ending its discriminatory new policy,” said Stephanie Taub, Counsel for First Liberty. “The First Amendment requires school districts to be neutral toward religion. They may not single out a church’s flyers for censorship, and they may not force a church to scrub the flyers of any religious language. That is hostility toward religion.”

The Lyon County School District has distributed flyers about outdoor programs, sports leagues, and Halloween parties from a variety of local, community organizations. However, according to the letter sent Wednesday, it refused to distribute flyers about Calvary Chapel’s Outdoor Excursions program, Harvest Festival, and Youth Nights (which include basketball and air hockey) simply because they include phrases such as “worship music” and “devotional.”

“Not only is this practice unconstitutional, it defeats the very purpose of providing community information,” said Amber Williams, Associate Attorney with Lipson Neilson. “By removing all religious references from the flyers, parents and students have no way of knowing about the nature of the events and cannot make informed decisions about whether to attend.”

To learn more, visit FirstLiberty.org/CalvaryChapel.

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About First Liberty Institute

First Liberty Institute is a non-profit public interest law firm and the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans. 

To arrange an interview, contact Lacey McNiel at media@firstliberty.org or by calling 972-941-4453.

To download this press release, please click here.