Town alters policy after flier lawsuit

HUDSON – Things aren’t looking good for the Hudson School District’s chances in federal court.

Superintendent Randy Bell said lawyers have told him case law is “stacked against” the district in a federal lawsuit over the distribution of fliers advertising a summer Bible school.

“The attorneys felt that given the open-ended nature of the policy, we might well lose the lawsuit,” Bell said.

The Hudson School Board unanimously adopted a policy change Monday night because it has already been sued under the old policy, which regulated the announcements and promotional material sent home with students.

Patricia Regan, a Hudson resident, filed a suit in federal court last month claiming the district violated her constitutional rights when Bell prohibited her from distributing fliers for a vacation Bible school at a local elementary school.

Bell said Monday that the district’s lawyers advised adopting a revision to the policy regulating the display and distribution of informational materials and announcements because the old version was open-ended.

“What he said essentially is that our policy is broad enough to include virtually all nonprofit agencies,” Bell told the board Monday.The lawsuit wasn’t the only reason the policy revision was brought to the board, Bell said.

“Over the past several years, I’ve been increasingly concerned with the volume of material we send home with students,” he said.

Regan wanted kids to take home promotional fliers for Calvary Bible Church’s summer vacation Bible school. A day after she delivered the fliers to the school attended by her three children, Nottingham West Elementary, Bell said he wouldn’t hand them out because of their religious content.

The district’s policy allows the distribution of fliers for other nonprofit groups.

Regan enlisted the help of the Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona-based Christian organization that’s providing Regan with legal representation.

The new policy limits access to students’ homebound backpacks to the school itself; school-associated volunteer groups that have been sanctioned by the school board, such as Friends of Music and Alvirne High School boosters; government agencies; and the local parent-teacher organization.

The old policy allowed information from those groups, plus “nonprofit community organizations operating in the town of Hudson.”

Groups such as Drama Kids International, Cub Scouts, National Inventors Hall of Fame, Adult Learning Center, Hudson United Soccer Club and Southern New Hampshire Medical Center are among the organizations that have passed out materials, according to Regan’s suit.

“The gist of the argument is that schools cannot ban distribution of a Christian group’s literature just because it is religious,” said Alliance Defense Fund attorney Josh Bolinger.

Regan said Bell’s decision violated her rights under the First and 14th Amendments, which protect a person’s right to freedom of religion and prohibits the state from making or enforcing laws that deny citizens privileges of life, liberty and property.

The suit is seeking a preliminary injunction against the district and Bell, a judgment that Bell’s denial of Regan’s fliers was unconstitutional, plus court fees and unspecified damages to Regan.