The Supreme Court has been asked to consider an interesting case out of Saginaw, Michigan. Fifth grader Joel Curry, 11, was asked to remove religious expressions contained on candy canes being sold at Heritage High School. Despite the fact that he was still given an A for the exercise, he sued for being told to remove the religious expressions from the notes attached to the candy canes.
In December 2003, Joel Curry attached notes with messages that he found in a religious bookstore on “The Meaning of the Candy Cane.” The messages referred to Jesus six times and God twice. The notes stated:
The Meaning of the Candy Cane
Hard Candy: Reminds us that Jesus is like a “rock,” strong and dependable.
The Color Red: Is for God’s love that sent Jesus to give his life for us on the cross.
The Stripes: Remind us of Jesus’ suffering—his crown of thorns, the wounds in his
hands and feet; and the cross on which he died.
Peppermint Flavor: Is like the gift of spices from the wise men.
White Candy: Stands for Jesus as the holy, sinless Son of God.
Cane: Is like a staff used by shepherds in caring for sheep. Jesus leads us and
watches over us when we Trust him.
The Letter “J”: Is for the Name of Jesus, Our Lord & Savior, born on Christmas day
While a trial judge ruled for Curry, the Sixth Circuit ruled against him. However, the trial judge ruled in favor the government on key issues on summary judgment while finding that the school did violate his constitutional rights.
The Court now finds that although the defendants did not violate Joel’s constitutional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment or the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, the actions did abridge Joel’s First Amendment speech rights. However, the plaintiffs have not demonstrated that the school district failed to train its personnel in dealing with such issues or otherwise established municipal liability. In addition, the Court finds that the school principal is entitled to qualified immunity. Finally, the request for declaratory and injunctive relief is moot.
For a copy of the trial opinion, click here.
The best claim that they have is the argument that other religious expressions were allowed in the past. However, Curry’s treatment does not seem particularly draconian. He was given a high grade and merely instructed to keep the writings secular. Otherwise, the school would be selling items with religious expressions. I would bet against the Court accepting the case, which seems weak as a challenge to expand protections of religious expression in the school setting.
For the full story, click here.