Man sues Arizona school district after it refuses his summer-camp ads

Tuesday, June 13, 2000

A Scottsdale, Ariz., man who was told he could not distribute summer-camp brochures through the local school district due to their religious content has sued in federal court, alleging a violation of his First Amendment rights.

Joseph Hills, president of “A Little Sunshine from Arizona” — a nonprofit educational corporation that had planned to conduct a camp and advertise through the Scottsdale Unified School District No. 48 — sued after school district officials told him to alter his advertising brochures.

Hills intended to advertise his Desert Mountain Summer Camp through a brochure listing the various camp offerings, including courses on “Bible Heroes” and “Bible Tales.” The other 17 courses listed were non-religious in nature.

Hills contends that in April school district officials refused to allow further distribution of his brochures in part because a parent had complained about the religious content.

According to Hills, school district officials told him he could distribute the brochures if he altered them by removing descriptions of the Bible classes and omitting graphics depicting the Bible and a cross.

Because of the school district officials’ actions, Hills says that he had to cancel the first camp session.

The complaint in Hills v. Scottsdale Unified School District No. 48 alleges that the school district’s literature-distribution policy violates the free-speech, free-exercise and establishment clauses of the First Amendment.

“Defendants discriminated against Mr. Hills by denying him access to that public forum based upon the content of the Camp Brochures that he sought to distribute,” the complaint alleges.

The suit also states that the “defendants discriminate against religious persons because they condition access to an important government benefit upon Mr. Hills self-censoring any religious content and expression from his literature before it will be accepted for distribution through SUSD schools.”

Finally, the suit alleges a violation of the establishment clause because the policy “is hostile towards religion, and favors irreligion over religion.”

Hills’ attorney, Kevin Theriot of the American Center for Law and Justice, says that the school has violated his client’s freedom of speech and freedom of religion rights. “The school district opened up a forum for other groups, such as the YMCA and American Youth Soccer, to advertise their camps. They censored his brochures because his camp contained two classes of religious content. This violates the Constitution. If they open their facilities to the community, they cannot excise out speakers with whom they disagree.”

Calls to the school district’s attorney were not returned.