Sunday, November 16, 2014

School Bans Jesus Talk During Free Time: Colorado

Lawyers representing Chase Windebank will argue in court that Pine Creek High School of Academy School District No. 20 near Colorado Springs lacks constitutional authority to restrict the senior and other students from gathering during an open period at school to discuss their Christian faith.

UPDATE 6/10/15: School Skirts Lawsuit by Eliminating Free Time to Pray (see excerpts from articles below)

UPDATE 1/7/15: Teacher Bans Free Time Bible Reading in Missouri

UPDATE 11/30/14: Student Suspended for Jesus Talk Sues Washington School

For background, click headlines below to read previous articles:

Florida Teacher Bans Bible in Free Time, Parents Sue

Jesus & Chaplains Banned from Florida Schools Football

Arizona Schools Ban Christian Football Coaches

'Bless You' After Sneeze Gets Tennessee Student Suspended

South Carolina School Bans Jesus from Prayers after Atheists Threaten

Oklahoma, Delaware & Maine Schools Assures Wisconsin Atheists: No Praying Here

Also read Most Americans Support Prayer in School: Poll

-- From "Colorado high school sued over ban on student prayer group" by Daniel Wallis, Reuters 11/10/14

"Public schools should encourage the free exchange of ideas," Alliance [ADF] Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco said in a statement on Monday, after the lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court on Friday.

"Instead, this school implemented an ill-conceived ban that singles out religious speech for censorship during free time."

The Alliance got involved in the Pine Creek case after a senior, Chase Windebank, said he and other students were stopped from meeting in an unoccupied choir room twice a week to pray, sing Christian songs, and discuss topical issues from a religious perspective.

[The lawsuit] said the school told the students the meetings, which had been taking place for three years, could continue, but that any religious speech must stop.

To read the entire article above, CLICK HERE.

From "High School Bans Students From Holding Prayer Group in Free Time" by Kelsey Harkness, The Daily Signal 11/11/14

Citing “separation of church and state,” officials at Pine Creek High School told Chase Windebank, a senior, that he and his classmates no longer were allowed to use an unoccupied choir room for religious purposes.

The school grants students such as Windebank, who are in good academic standing, permission to leave during the second half of their homeroom seminar. While other classmates spent that time reading, studying, texting, snacking, socializing, or meeting in school clubs, Windebank held a prayer group.

After Assistant Principal James Lucas told Windebank on Sept. 29 that he could hold his prayer meetings only before or after school hours, he consulted lawyers at Alliance Defending Freedom [ADF], seeking protection of his right to freedom of religion and speech.

To read the entire article above, CLICK HERE.

From "Colorado Senior Sues High School for Prohibiting Student-led Prayer, Hymn Singing" by Stephanie Samuel, Christian Post Reporter 11/12/14

[Chase Windebank's] group met following the warning but refrained from praying in an attempt to comply with the new free time policy. The group also tried meeting before school to pray, however attendance dropped from 90 students to 20 because of how difficult it is to arrive at school early.

The high school senior, with the help of ADF, is now asking the court to issue an injunction preventing the school from "denying his right to engage in Christian religious expression."

In a letter to ADF, Director for Legal Relations Patricia Richardson defended the school's decision to discourage the students from meeting during the school day stating "In accordance with the Equal Access Act, non-curriculum related groups such as Chase's prayer group, may meet at Pine Creek High School during non-instructional time." Richardson quoted the administrative policy to define "non-instructional time" as "time set aside for each school before actual classroom instruction begins or after actual classroom instructions ends."

Pine Creek's handbook states seminar is a time to "develop a sense of community; to build lines of communication; to provide community and school services; and to have focused academic time."

To read the entire article above, CLICK HERE.

From "Colorado Springs student sues high school for banning prayer group" by Valerie Richardson, The Washington Times 11/11/14

In the lawsuit . . . [ADF] attorneys contend that students who meet certain academic criteria are allowed at “open time” to “engage in a virtually unlimited variety of activities of the students’ own choosing, including hanging out in the cafeteria and other open areas with friends, playing on their phones, meeting together for expressive activities (including both formally recognized clubs and unofficial groups), and going outside to hang out together.”

The lawsuit contends that the district’s policy gives “unbridled discretion to District officials to decide what forms of expression students are permitted to engage in during open time of Seminar period and to ban any other expression — including the religious singing, prayer, and discussion of religious topics — at the whim of the officials.”

As a result, the district has sanctioned a “content-based restriction in an otherwise open forum for student expression” and “viewpoint discrimination, which is unconstitutional in any type of forum,” says the lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court, names the school district, Pine Creek principal Kolette Black and assistant principal James Lucas as defendants.

To read the entire article above, CLICK HERE.

UPDATE 6/10/15: From "Christian teen in Colorado drops school prayer lawsuit" by Justin Wm. Moyer, Washington Post

Now, Pine Creek has sidestepped the lawsuit. It has eliminated its seminar period entirely — for academic reasons, officials say, having nothing to do with Windebank and his lawsuit.

Windebank claims he struck a blow for the First Amendment, saying the school backed down and will now allow prayer at lunch.

“I’m actually quite excited that I was able to take this stand and be able to make a victory for free speech in public schools,” he said. “Not just for me because I filed this lawsuit. For those after me as well, being able to express what they believe.”

The school district claims it has agreed to nothing. Though Pine Creek’s counsel said they were confident about the case, they agreed to a dismissal when Windebank “voluntarily abandoned” his claim, they said.

“No other terms were agreed to, no money was paid, and no policies were changed,” Robert J. Zavaglia Jr., an attorney for the school district, wrote in an e-mail.

To read the entire article above, CLICK HERE.

UPDATE 6/10/15: From "Religious freedom lawsuit against Colorado Springs school dropped" by Debbie Kelley, Colorado Springs Gazette

The Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Alliance Defending Freedom . . . withdrew the lawsuit because the goal, to protect religious speech and citizens' rights under the First and Fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution, was achieved, Matt Sharp, an Alliance Defending Freedom attorney, said Tuesday.

"The school did a complete 180," he said. "Students now have a right to pray and gather together to discuss their faith during free time."

Now, Sharp said, the district has agreed to allow students to engage and prayer and religious discussion during lunchtime.

[School District] D-20 lawyer Rob Zavaglia said "no policies were changed" and "no terms were agreed to."

"We always maintained throughout the proceedings that student-led groups could meet before and after school, not during instructional time," said D-20 spokeswoman Nanette Anderson. "We never said students could not pray during lunch; that was never a piece of the contention."

To read the entire article above, CLICK HERE.

UPDATE 6/9/15: From "Colorado high school kills free period rather than let students use it for prayer group" by Greg Piper, Associate Editor, The College Fix

The Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented prayer leader Chase Windebank, said Tuesday the school got around its prohibition on prayer during “instructional time” by eliminating the “seminar” homeroom period during which Windebank and his peers met for prayer. Its lawsuit against the school district claimed students were allowed to do practically anything else during seminar, including texting and snacking.

Because praying students will no longer be required to meet before the school day at 7:45 a.m. and after it at 2:45 p.m., a window of time that proved difficult for Windebank’s group, the alliance dropped its suit.

“While we commend the school district for recognizing that students have the right to pray and discuss religious topics during lunch, it could have shown greater respect both for the First Amendment freedoms of students and the educational process by simply allowing them to engage in religious conversations during the other free period in the day rather than silence the speech of all students by eliminating that period altogether,” said senior legal counsel Jeremy Tedesco in a written statement.

To read the entire article above, CLICK HERE.

Also read U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of public prayer, and read the resulting resurgence in public prayer following the Supreme Court decision including the long list of states enacting laws to bring prayer back to schools.