Sunday, May 19, 2024

Pocket Constitutions Met With Resistance From Texas Public School District

Forbidding the distribution of copies of the U.S. Constitution by outside groups on public school and college students is nothing entirely new — and despite a 2005 law that requires taxpayer-funded schools to recognize Constitution Day.

In one Central Texas school district today, some apparent “confusion and misapplication” nearly prevented distribution of 4,000 pocket constitutions to eighth graders, provided by the 917 Society.

According to the Williamson County chapter of Citizens Defending Freedom, the Leander ISD (located northwest and west of Austin, Texas) was the only school district in the county to refuse. At first, anyway.

An attorney letter distributed by enraged parents and district watchdogs advised the district it is federally required to commemorate and hold an educational program about the U.S. Constitution for its students on Sept. 17, or the next available school day if on a weekend (e.g. it would be on the 18th this year). Though allowing the public to distribute pocket constitutions is not mandated in state or federal law, there is a process to allow for non-school literature to be passed out if it meets district guidelines.

At first glance, around 10 a.m., the district rejected the 917 Society constitutions stating “the materials contain advertisements that 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.”

Inspecting a copy of the pocket constitution, it did not appear there was any religious or political rhetoric present. Furthermore, the nonprofit’s website, though it appears patriotic (as one would expect), went to great lengths to state that it was apolitical. No indoctrination there either, other than that the Constitution is a good thing to learn more about.

RVIVR reached out to the school district office which denied the permission. We received the following correction shortly before 3 p.m.:

Upon investigation and consultation with our general counsel, we have determined that there was some internal confusion and misapplication of district policy. The pamphlets will be made available to students, consistent with the time, place, and manner restrictions of district policy, specifically Policy GKDA (LOCAL) Distribution of Non-School Literature. We apologize for any confusion or misunderstanding.  

Organizations from the Right and the Left have distributed pocket copies of the Constitution since at least 1965, from the leftist ACLU to the libertarian CATO Institute as two major players.

The federal Government Printing Office has been cranking out hand-held Constitutions in booklet form for many decades. It’s unclear when they first became known as “pocket” Constitutions, according to an article by the National Archives, but in 1965 Congress started printing what they called “pocked-sized” editions of the Constitution for distribution to members.

Former Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd, founder of the modern Constitution Day founded in 2005, was famous for carrying his copy of the U.S. Constitution with him at all times. “Like a referee giving a red card, he loved to whip it out and wave it over his head during his speeches on the Senate floor,” according to the Archives article.

Since then, distributing pocket constitutions has risen in popularity. Conservative Hillsdale College reported giving out 3 million last year.

Schools have been generally receptive. As one example, a public school district in Bossier Parish, Louisiana, had celebrated Constitution Week by giving away 1,500 of the booklets, distributed to every fifth grade class, sponsored by then-Republican U.S. Congressman Mike Johnson and a local Republican Women chapter. 

Public colleges and universities, however, have proven to be a little more testy. Students sued to distribute pocket constitutions at Modesto Junior College in 2013 in California. Young Americans for Liberty members were actually arrested in 2017 for doing the same at Kellogg Community College in Michigan.

While it may be a little late to send off for a box of constitutions to hand out at your local government education center, why not print a few off at home, pass them out, and see what happens? Here are 9 ways to get your own copy.

(Or maybe really test your First Amendment freedoms by distributing copies of the Articles of Confederation — we double-dog dare you!)

You can plan ahead for Constitution Week 2024 and request a box of 400 constitutions for your local school from the 917 Society here. You may also donate to help them cover costs.