Thursday, January 15, 2004

Unpapering over a problem 

Because a leaflet advertising a soccer program that included a religious message caused a parent to complain, Minneapolis schools are considering banning all such leaflets from their schools.
The district's leaflet distribution procedures have barred business ads, inflammatory material and some fundraising events for almost 20 years. They also barred political or religious leaflets.

The current discussion was triggered when an organization offering inner-city sports added a dose of spiritual content.

Urban Ventures, a south Minneapolis nonprofit group, runs a summer soccer program. Practices include a 10-minute "chalk talk" by coaches. It's aimed at building character but might include a Bible verse, said Mark-Peter Lundquist, Urban Venture's program director. There's no doctrinal content; it's merely an effort to provide a moral compass to at-risk kids, he said.

But a complaint from the parent of a soccer player led the district to bar Urban Ventures from distributing leaflets through schools last fall for its traveling basketball team tryouts -- cutting in half the number of kids turning out, Lundquist said.

That turned into a temporary prohibition against all outside leaflets while the policy was being revised. Cheri Reese, the district's communication director, said it was growing uncomfortable with its lack of knowledge about some of the groups for which leaflets were going out.

Giles said he has grown increasingly uncomfortable with the current selective approval policy. Legally, he said, the district was creating a limited public forum by distributing leaflets, and courts have held that excluding some groups for religious content is discriminatory and violates First Amendment free speech.
The Girl Scouts would also be banned, and they are not happy even though they offer after-school programs for students. Groups with partnerships to the government would be allowed to continue.