Candy Cane | Cases | First Liberty

School Officials Ban “Goodie Bags,” Tickets to a Religious Play, and “Jesus” Pencils

Morgan v. Swanson, otherwise known as the “candy cane” case, originated in 2003 in Plano, Texas when three elementary school students — Jonathan Morgan, Michaela Wade, and Stephanie Versher — were prohibited from handing out gifts with religious messages at school.

School officials told Michaela and Jonathan that the “goodie bags” they brought to exchange at their respective class “winter break” parties were banned from the classroom because they contained a religious message. Another school principal confiscated tickets to a religious play that Stephanie distributed to her classmates during recess, even threatening to call the police and “kick Stephanie out of school” if she subsequently distributed the materials on campus. In addition, Stephanie attempted to give her friends “Jesus” pencils after school outside the school building, but a school official also confiscated the pencils.

Legal Action 

For several years, First Liberty Institute represented the families of the students, contending that the school officials violated the First Amendment rights of the students to freely express their faith at school. In 2010, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled in favor of the students.

The school officials appealed the ruling. In September 2011, the full 16-member Fifth Circuit affirmed that the school officials violated the First Amendment—but granted the officials immunity.

In 2012, First Liberty Institute filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court asking it to review the Fifth Circuit’s decision on immunity and hold the school officials accountable for their actions. However, on June 11, 2012, the Supreme Court denied First Liberty’s petition to hear oral arguments.

First Liberty’s claim against the school district for violating the religious freedom rights of Jonathan, Michaela, and Stephanie returned to federal district court. In March 2016, First Liberty obtained a favorable settlement resolving the remaining issues of the case.

“Although the school officials were not held responsible for their actions this time, this resolution holds that any school official who violates the First Amendment rights of students in the future will be held responsible,” said Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of First Liberty.

“We consider this case a victory because it established the precedent that will ensure that school officials are held accountable for their actions in violation of the First Amendment and religious freedom of students,” he added.

First Liberty Institute is dedicated to protecting the religious liberty of students and their families and is committed to leading the effort to ensure that America’s students can express their faith at school without fear of government censorship or punishment.

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To The American Legion:

As a grateful citizen, I support your effort to honor those who have fallen in battle and to keep the Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial standing as a visible reminder of valor, sacrifice, endurance, and devotion.

Veterans memorials like the one in Bladensburg, MD are symbols reminding us of the sacrifice of our service members and the cost of war. Tearing down the Bladensburg Memorial would erase the memory of the 49 fallen heroes of Prince George’s County—like they never even existed.

We cannot allow the Bladensburg Memorial to be bulldozed.

Please know that you have my support and backing in your petition to the U.S. Supreme Court.