August 14, 2008

Early start for '08 War on Christmas

Headed to the United States Supreme Court (at least for a law clerk to spill coffee on) is the legal memorandum of one Joel Curry, a Michigan fifth-grader whose parents put him to use as an evangelical drug mule in December, 2005.

A school in Saginaw came up with an exercise called Classroom City, in which students were required to design products to market and sell for fake money in the gymnasium.

Joel Curry produced a candy cane fashioned from pipe cleaners and beads to which he attached the text of an ancient viral e-mail message declaring the alleged significance of candy canes to the central dogmas of Christianity.

Joel's mother dreamed up the candy cane idea, while his father thoughtfully offered to provide the attached cards, which were intended to explain "how the candy cane can be viewed a symbol of Christianity."

To wit:
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.

White Candy: Stands for Jesus as the holy, sinless Son of God.
And so forth.

As required by his teacher, Joel submitted the candy canes for advance approval but, interestingly, without the attached cards. Joel was paired up with a young man by the name of Siddarth Reddy. The plan was that Joel would design and supply the product, and Siddarth would manage the marketing and sales.

But Siddarth Reddy was not impressed after the candy canes suddenly appeared with the proselytizing messages attached. In fact young Siddarth removed himself from the team and ended up both producing and marketing a different product of his own design without Joel's assistance.

Soon enough, it came to the attention of the school's administrators that Joel was announcing for Jesus down in the gym. Mindful of the legal quandary, the school officials advised Joel that while he was free to sell his parents' sectarian bric-a-brac outside in the parking lot, he could not do so inside as part of the school's own educational exercise, although he did end up getting an A for his efforts.

Joel's mother was active throughout these brief negotiations, and informed the school's principal that she'd discovered some Christian legal outfits on the internets who might sue the school for free. One of them was the Alliance Defense Fund, which did just that.

While a federal district court found that the school had violated some constitutional right of Joel Curry's, it dismissed the ADF's complaint on the grounds that the defendant, principal Irene Hensiner, in her official capacities, enjoyed a qualified immunity from the lawsuit.

The ADF kept going, and the case ended up before a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. While still finding in favor of the school, the Sixth Circuit determined last January that while Hensiner could not invoke qualified immunity, the school may nevertheless restrict whatever rights Joel Curry is claiming because 1) the viral e-mails may be perceived as bearing the imprimatur of the school and 2) local school officials are better situated to assess their own pedagogical concerns and goals than are federal courts.

The ADF took another shot at rehearing by more Sixth Circuit judges, but the court declined, thus ADF's application for SCOTUS review.

Joel Curry's parents' shenanigans are closely reminiscent of those of Erica Corder, the Colorado valedictorian who deceived school officials by submitting for review a speech entirely different from the sermon of New Testament praise she ultimately declaimed from a high school podium over a government public address system.

h/t Prof. Friedman, who links to all the relevant documents.


Emily said...

Cowards, the lot of 'em.

illusory tenant said...

Gotta hand it to Siddarth, at least.

Anonymous said...

intended to explain "how the candy cane can be viewed a symbol of Christianity.

I vividly recall being whacked across the sternum by a Future Farmer wielding a Wordless Walking Stick. The spiritual connotations didn't hit me until much later, though.

Jennifer Rouan said...

It feels like the War on Christmas comes earlier every year. :)

Mpeterson said...

Cowards and unchristian cowards.

I promise I'm going to steal the phrase "evangelical drug mule." I cannot imagine a better way to put it. At least we can hope the condoms haven't ruptured and killed the kid's soul -- yet.