Candy Canes Sweatshirts and Jewelry Oh My

Yes, to many the Bible is now offensive and so are candy canes with a Christian message. For four years, a Bible club at a Reno, Nevada, high school had distributed candy canes containing the words "Jesus Loves You" without incident. But in 2002 the school administration denied the club permission to dispense the candy because the message was "potentially offensive." To its credit, the school reversed its position when the Pacific Justice Institute intervened." One wonders, though, whether the school was even aware that the candy cane itself was invented as a Christian symbol, representing the shepherd's crook of a bishop.

Indeed, candy canes are a big issue-for school districts anyway-across the country. School administrators at Westfield High School in the Boston area suspended six students for passing out candy canes with Bible verses on the attached card before class. The cards also included information about Bible club meetings and the story of the candymaker who popularized the candy in America as a Christian witness. (The cane now represented not only a shepherd's crook, as it had in Europe for centuries, but J for Jesus, white for purity, and red for Christ's redemptive blood.)

The students had requested permission to hand out the candy, but said the principal denied it because it might be "offensive" to other students." The school claimed that its refusal was based on a policy barring students from passing out non-school-related literature on campus." Administrators warned the students that they might face punishment for insubordination. The students, believing that God had called them to share the Gospel, went ahead and risked punishment. One reason they did so was that the previous year they had been told that the only message the candy could contain was the generic "Happy Holidays." They thought it would be wrong to dilute their message again. And they are right. The Constitution protects the free exercise of religion; it was never intended to require that religious holidays be treated as secular ones. When the students filed a federal lawsuit against the school district, district judge Frank Freedman issued an injunction prohibiting the school from disciplining the students.

Even five-year-old pre-kindergartners can get into trouble over candy canes. A case now pending in the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals involves the right of five-year-old Daniel Walz of Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, to give his classmates pencils and candy canes containing Christian messages. Daniel's teacher confiscated the pencils for fear that their messages could offend students who do not belong to an organized religion." Of course, one has to wonder which is more offensive to the Constitution of the United States: a five-yearold passing out candy canes to his classmates or a teacher confiscating the candy canes because they are Christian.

Matters of apparel are also at issue. Students at a high school in McArthur, Ohio, were told to remove bracelets with the letters "WWJD," which stand for "What Would Jesus Do," because they might offend some students. The school reversed itself, however, and permitted the wearing of the bracelets following a letter by the National Legal Foundation to the assistant principal.

School administrators of Walker County School District in Birmingham, Alabama, told eleven-year-old Kandice Smith that she couldn't openly wear a cross necklace to Curry Middle School under the school's dress code. The school claimed that it wasn't intending to infringe on Kandice's free speech or religious expression rights, but to discourage gang activity. It is difficult to understand how a cross necklace could encourage gang activity, but Kandice was nonetheless risking detention or suspension if she didn't remove or conceal the necklace. The school settled after a lawsuit was filed, agreeing to revise its dress code "to mandate religious accommodations in accordance with the Alabama Religious Freedom Amendment."

Gelsey Bostick, a third grader at Asa Adams School in Orono, Maine, caused a stir at her school when she wore a T-shirt and sweatshirt both bearing the name "Jesus Christ." Gelsey's teacher asked her to turn the shirts inside out because they were causing a commotion. The teacher attributed part of the disruption to the fact that one of the students in the class was named Jesus, which caused the other students to "chatter." But, the teacher also said the words on Gelsey's shirt offended one of the students. Gelsey's mother, Cynthia Bostick, a professor of psychiatric nursing at the University of Maine, was upset that she wasn't contacted about her daughter having to wear her shirts inside out. The school changed its position when the Thomas More Center intervened. The school insists, however, that it was not engaging in religious discrimination, but that the shirts were disrupting the class because some students interpreted the words as "swear words." Perhaps the students could have been told otherwise, but evidently that was asking too much. "There were no religious overtones," said Principal Susan O'Roak. "If kids are focused on the shirt, they're not focused on the lesson."

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