A Texas school district has agreed to distribute a pocket version of the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence to students after initially refusing on grounds that it was "political" material.
The school district located just north of Austin, a liberal bastion in a red state, backtracked Friday, saying the refusal was due to a "misunderstanding."
Citizens Defending Freedom, a conservative watchdog group, began distributing 17,000 donated copies of the U.S. Constitution to middle schools in Williamson County, Texas, in September ahead of the Texas Celebrate Freedom Week and Constitution and Citizenship days.
However, Leander Independent School District was the only school system in the county to reject an estimated 4,000 free copies of the founding documents, defining them as "political advertisements," according to Jonathan Hullihan, a Texas CCF Attorney.
Mr. Hullihan told The Epoch Times he was shocked by Leander ISD's rejection of the founding documents.
In a seven-page letter to Superintendent Bruce Gearing on Sept. 15, Mr. Hullihan demanded that the district reconsider its "unconscionable" violation of the First Amendment in the very Constitution at question.
The demand letter was copied to Leader ISD's school board trustees and several Texas legislators.
Mr. Hullihan said while he believed in giving the district the benefit of the doubt that a mistake had been made, litigation was on the table if Leander ISD did not distribute the Constitutions to students.
"I would have filed a lawsuit," Mr. Hullihan said. "This is the model for winning."
CDF members and Moms for Liberty first contacted principals at Leander ISD on Sept. 10 in an attempt to give out the pamphlets, Mr. Hullihan said.
Four days later, the school district explained its denial in an email from Heather Neds, the district's community relations coordinator.
"After reviewing the pocket Constitution you dropped off for us, we cannot allow you to distribute them at our schools. It is against our policy," she wrote.
The founding documents would "prevent the district from maintaining a position of neutrality on political or religious issues or would create an appearance of favoritism on political or religious issues," she stated.
On Sept. 15, the district's superintendent responded and informed school principals to accept the pocket Constitutions, Mr. Hullihan said.
Volunteers expect to complete their distribution by Sept. 18, he added.
'Misapplication of District Policy'Daniel Cernero, Leander ISD's assistant director of communications, told The Epoch Times in an email that refusing the pocket Constitutions was an error.
"Upon investigation and consultation with our general counsel, we have determined that there was some internal confusion and misapplication of district policy," Mr. Cernero wrote.
The pamphlets will be made available to students, consistent with the time, place, and manner restrictions of district policy concerning the distribution of non-school literature, according to Mr. Cernero.
Mr. Hullihan said that federal law requires educational institutions that receive federal money to commemorate Citizenship Day and Constitution Day every year on Sept. 17, or the first weekday after that, to celebrate the documents signed on that date in 1787.
Texas statute also calls for school districts to teach about the Constitution on its anniversary, along with the Declaration of Independence, during Celebrate Freedom Week.
In his letter to the school district, Mr. Hullihan explained that the 917 Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to distributing the founding documents, donated the pocket Constitutions. The nonprofit is not politically affiliated, which was cited as a reason for the district's distribution denial, he said.
The pocket Constitutions were "simply to be used as an educational resource, to further inform future generations on the importance of preserving our Constitution and fostering an appreciation for our nation," Mr. Hullihan stated.
In 2023, the 917 Society is donating 1.3 million pocket Constitutions to middle school students in all 50 states, Mr. Hullihan said.
Under its educational initiative, the nonprofit has worked with over 27,000 middle school principals nationwide to provide pocket Constitutions.
Mr. Hullihan said he didn't know how the Constitution could be considered political to anyone.
"It's the most important foundational document in our country, and I would argue in the history of the world obviously besides the Bible," he said.
"I mean, it ignited the spark of freedom around the entire world, and the entire world is a brighter place because of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence," he added.