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Court Allows California School Officials to Ban Bible Group Material

October 31, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court today allowed public school officials in California to ban leaflets and school yearbook advertisements that promoted a student-run, lunch-hour Bible study group.

The court rejected an appeal by two students who said the officials violated their free-speech rights.

Justices William J. Brennan, Thurgood Marshall and Harry A. Blackmun voted to hear arguments in the case. But the votes of at least four justices are required to grant such review.

The students, Alexander Perumal and Frederick Read, were barred by Saddleback Valley school district officials during the 1984-85 school year from distributing the religious club flyers or placing ads in their high school yearbooks.

Perumal attended El Toro High School and Read went to Mission Viejo High School in the Saddleback Valley district.

Officials allowed the students, members of a group called New Life, to run Bible study and prayer groups during lunch hour outside the school building.

But the officials said permitting distribution of the handbills and yearbook ads would violate constitutionally required separation of church and state.

The officials said permitting distribution of religious literature and advertisements, in effect, would be giving government backing to the Bible study group.

The school district said it was acting in accord with a formal policy that limits the use of school facilities to officially approved student organizations and clubs.

The officials noted that in 1981 the district withdrew recognition of the New Life group after some parents complained.

But Perumal and Read said the school district was practicing unlawful censorship by restricting free expression about religion.

A California appeals court, in a 2-1 ruling in January, said the school officials acted properly.

The appeals court said a school may decide to prohibit ″off-campus groups from functioning or advertising on campus.″

The appeals court also said the Saddleback Valley policy permitting only school-sponsored activities to function complies with the Supreme Court’s test for assuring separation of church and state.

That three-part test permits government-sponsored activities that have a primary secular purpose, do not advance religion and do not cause entanglement between government and religion.

The case is Perumal vs. Saddleback Valley, 88-340.

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