In what has been described as a significant victory for both the First Amendment and firearms owners, a lawsuit against the Montclair, New Jersey Board of Education brought by the Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs (ANJRPC) was resolved on May 20, 2003, in a court-ordered settlement in which the school board acknowledged violating its own policies and agreed to distribute the gun group’s literature to its students. The settlement also required the school board to provide the gun group with ongoing access to the school system or else bar access to all groups via a change in official policy.
The lawsuit was commenced in October 2000, after the school board distributed leaflets advocating anti-gun legislation throughout the school system, but refused to distribute leaflets advocating the alternative point of view. ANJPRC, an official state affiliate of the National Rifle Association, alleged that the school board’s actions violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments by using publicly funded facilities to advocate one side of a legislative issue while refusing equal access to the other side. The lawsuit sought a determination of wrongdoing by the Court and injunctions requiring equal access.
“This case is really about an attempt to manipulate young minds by presenting only one side of an issue and actively suppressing the other side,” said ANJRPC representatives in a May 20 press release. “This settlement sends a message to every publicly funded school in America – if you try to stifle debate on the Second Amendment, you’re going to be held fully accountable.”
NRA Chief Lobbyist Chris Cox applauded the decision, observing “There is no room for political demagoguery in our schools and this new policy will help insure our children hear both sides of any issue. The clear message to school districts is, you can’t play politics with our kids.”
The settlement required the school board to distribute three flyers promoting the ANJRPC’s 2003 firearms education and training events, including outreach events for youth and women. In the agreement’s first paragraph, the school board acknowledged that the anti-gun leaflet distribution in 2000 “was a violation of Defendant Board’s policies relative to the distribution of literature to and by students.” The settlement also provided ANJRPC with ongoing access to the school system to promote events, conduct art and essay contests, grant scholarships, and seek establishment of a student club. Alternatively, the school board can amend its policies to bar such activities, but only if such policies apply equally to all organizations.
A copy of the settlement agreement is available on ANJRPC’s website at www.anjrpc.org.