This case has rattled through the halls of federal and appeals courts for eight years now -- the Ghost of War on Christmas Past, a moaning hydra who's been sliced, diced and now winnowed down to one remaining question on which a magistrate says three Plano families may proceed: In preventing students from handing out Jesus-themed pencils and candy canes, was the Plano Independent School District acting unconstitutionally?
You may recall that Johnathan Morgan and some other kids tried to pass out "Jesus Is The Reason For The Season" pencils and candy canes with cards explaining their Christian origin at a Plano elementary "Winter Party." District officials said it violated PISD policy. Bill O'Reilly said this was the new front in the War on Christmas. After a warning from the school that the pencils and candy would be confiscated, the parents told their kids to hand them out anyway. And so the kids were made pawns in a perpetual, low-stakes culture war. Or, as U.S. Magistrate Judge Don Bush put it in his recommendations: "The genesis of this case is well known to all. The story begins with a simple candy cane and, like the message conveyed, has no end."
Since then, the principals have been granted immunity from prosecution. Both the district court and the U.S. Appeals Court for the Fifth Circuit have ruled that the school's policies were constitutional, since they said nothing about religious materials. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case. But last week, Bush further narrowed what relief the families may seek.
He opined that the plaintiffs can't seek injunctive or declaratory relief regarding PISD's policies, which limit when and how materials may be handed out at schools. They violate neither the Texas Constitution nor the United States Constitution. However, they may continue on the question of whether PISD violated their constitutional rights in the enforcement of those policies. "The Court finds that PISD has not met its burden of showing a compelling interest in the manner in which it prevented the three children from exercising their rights to religious expression."
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Translated: No, really, what's the harm, PISD? The school isn't handing 'em out, so an atheist is free to tell the wee proselytizers to go hang.
That question, Bush wrote, should be preserved for a bench trial.Plano Candy Cane Report