Supreme Court Considers New Religion Case Over Candy Canes

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.

8 thoughts on “Supreme Court Considers New Religion Case Over Candy Canes”

  1. Given SCOTUS precedent on issues like prayer in public schools I don’t think the kid’s case will even be heard. Although, the reason the trial judge, who ruled in favor of the kid, even had to mention that his free speech had been violated is because of the recent SCOTUS trend of ruling in favor of religious complainants without first determining the issue to fall under the establishment clause and therefore not subject to the same scrutiny as free speech.

    I believe in God. I’m a strong Christian. And while it would make my heart sing to know that other kids had the same belief as my own kids, the religion clauses of the 1st Amendment were written for the express purpose of keeping the original and future citizens of this country free from force-fed religion, and I wholly support that.

    It would be an interesting difference if he had chosen to sell the candy canes of his own accord and not through the school. That would be a completely different issue.

  2. i personally do not believe in god. and i think that for the parents who do they should not force their values on their children…and having their kid fight his teachers in court just so they can get their point acrost is just stupid and selfish. i also agree with the teacher who made him take the saying off…other children should not have to look at the things they dont believe in.

  3. “I have great ethical issues with sending children out to do this work under any circumstances. I don’t think parents/adults should use children for their own aims.”

    *******
    Sorry, but you also seem to have no problem keeping your mouth shut about the ‘abuses’ of such child indoctrination when it serves your own purposes – in your own ‘back yard’…

    Who else is there to speak up ‘for her’…?

  4. That’s true Gyges. Christmas occurs within a few days of Solstice even though astronmers place Jesus’ birth around March and Easter changes dates every year according to the lunar calander etc. It’s interesting that at first the church was less into violent “conversions” of the heathens and more into co-option.

    This case in many ways reminds me of ID arguments. This, to me, is a clear attempt to proselytize in a public school now that school prayer isn’t allowed.

  5. Jill,

    This is why the Church spread so well early on, they understood that if they just changed the meaning of the peoples festivals without changing the actual festival, conversion would be a lot easier. Easter, Christmas, and a lot of the Saints days fall on well established festival days of earlier religions. The Communists did a similar thing in Cuba when the retained Carnival but moved the date.

  6. My personal sentiments mirror Jill’s. However, I seem to remember a case somewhere in New England a few years back where the ACLU (that’s right, dundar, that ACLU) defended the candy cane side of a similar incident and won.

  7. This is interesting! First of all candy canes are pagan so they are a strange choice for christian proselytizing. The court then ruled his free speech was violated, something they usually rule exactly the other way on when it comes to things like school newspapers or children’s at home online activities that criticize the school.

    These enclosed messages seem quite clearly to be an attempt to proselytize. I do know that young people in fundamentalists churches are taught to convert people to their church and its vision of god. They are called “hit teams”. They practice the routines, talk them over extensively with their youth and head pastor and the children are sent into various “heathen” venues to work “miracles” (that is the conversion of unbelievers). I have great ethical issues with sending children out to do this work under any circumstances. I don’t think parents/adults should use children for their own aims. Legally though, there are few limits on this type of thing, but one of them is the public schools. If parents must use their own children (and I don’t think they should), then they have public forums to send them to. I do not think a careful examination of the facts support ruling in favor of this child’s parents.

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