updated 3:41 PM EDT, Mon June 11, 2012
Washington (CNN) -- In what have become known as the "Jesus pencil" and "candy cane" cases, the Supreme Court refused Monday to consider appeals from the families of elementary school students over distribution of religious-themed gifts on campus. At issue was whether school officials can be sued for violating the First Amendment rights of what the students claimed was their "private, non-curricular speech based solely upon its religious viewpoint."
A federal appeals court had ruled in favor of school officials in Plano, Texas,on the liability question, and the justices without comment let that decision stand. The full 16-judge panel from the New Orleans-based court last September concluded while the constitutional rights of the students were violated, school administrators could not be sued under the "qualified immunity" legal standard. The litigation continues on other aspects of two separate incidents nine years ago, both involving schools at the Plano Independent School District in the Dallas suburb.
"Educators should not suffer personal monetary liability for making a mistake in this area of the law," said the appeals judges. In one instance, the principal of Thomas Elementary School blocked then-third-grader Jonathan Morgan from handing out "goody bags" at a winter party. The bags included a decorative pen in the shape of a candy cane with a Christian message that read in part: "Every time you see a candy cane, remember the message of the candy maker: Jesus is the Christ!" Parents had met with Principal Lynn Swanson, who offered a compromise: the laminated "Legend of the Candy Cane" pens would not be allowed at the classroom party, but could be distributed separately at a table in the school library. School district officials later clarified, saying students in general were not allowed...