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 Student Sues High School for Religious Freedom

National News Prayer-Soldier writes "OPINION: On 13 Nov 2014, CBN News reported that a Colorado Springs public high school student is fighting for the rights of students to pray and discuss their faith during free time at school. According to “CBN News,” a student at Pine Creek High School reached out to the non-profit organization, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), who filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the student. The action was taken after the high school leadership banned the use of an empty choir room for religious purposes such as praying, singing or discussing religious topics.

According to a FOX 21 News report, for the last three years, Chase Windebank and his friends had used what was termed as a “free period” for the purposes of discussing their Christian faith. According to the report, school leadership cited “the separation of church and state” as the reason the practice was being directed to stop. The report quoted the following statement which was provided by the school to explain their action.

"The period of time referenced by the complaint is seminar time during which students report to an assigned seminar class where attendance is taken. This time is counted as academic time toward the minimum hours of instruction that schools are required to provide by state law, and therefore, must be used for academic purposes.

On Mondays and Wednesdays students in good academic standing may leave the seminar classroom to participate in curriculum-related activities such as studying in the library or with study groups, seeking individual assistance from staff members, or meeting with curriculum-related clubs.

Seminar is not a period of time during which students may engage in noncurriculum-related activities, religious or otherwise, or participate in non-curriculum related clubs. Noncurriculum-related groups, which include religious groups, are permitted to meet both before and after instructional time."

According to an 11 Nov 2014 report by The Daily Signal, “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.”

According to an 11 Nov 2014 report by The Gazette, the lawsuit highlighted that the school allowed other students to use the time for, “...a virtually unlimited variety of activities, 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.” According to The Gazette, the statement of the lawsuit continued, “The open time is akin to recess or lunch period, where students have long been recognized to have the right to engage in expressive activities.”

According to the Pine Creek High School Student/Parent Handbook 2014 – 2015, Seminar is defined as, “...small groups of students who meet together with a staff member on a daily basis. Seminar is an opportunity to develop a sense of community; to build lines of communication; to provide community and school services; and to have focused academic time. In addition, students will often have time to access the resources available to them at Pine Creek. These include peer tutors, teachers, counselors, administrators and the library. Club meetings may be scheduled during this time.”

On the surface, the school is attempting to stand upon their responsibility to define and control academic time. According to The Gazette report, “D-20 attorney Patricia Richardson said … the students can meet at school during 'noninstructional time,' meaning time before classroom instruction starts or after it ends and 'may include specific activity periods set aside for this purpose.'”

The school has the right to control the good order of the academic day and may prevail if they consistently enforce academic rules codified to define appropriate use of the Seminar time as only curriculum based studies in the library or in study groups. If the school, as related by the lawsuit, allows students to discuss non-curriculum based topics such as sports, TV shows, politics and other general socializing; and only prohibits students from using the time to pray and discuss faith, then, the issue becomes one of religious discrimination.

The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;...” The statement prohibits government from either establishing a state religion or infringing upon the freedom of the people to live according to their religion. If the school cites separation of church and state as the defense for their action, then, what they are implying is that allowing students to discuss faith on public school grounds has the same force and effect as Congress enacting a law which establishes a specific state enforced religion with consequences of fines or imprisonment if that law is not obeyed. From Windebank's perspective, the prohibition of the use of free time, which was not a disruption to the academic day, is an infringement of the free exercise of faith.

What is unknown at this writing is why did the school act now, when it had taken no action for three years? What motivated school leadership to restrict the time of this small group of students, who were cloistered in a choir room and not disrupting other students? While the school may stand behind good order and discipline of the academic day, if it is only applied to matters of Christian faith, then, it only becomes a thin veil for restricting the freedoms of those of faith. The PCHS Student/Parent Handbook 2014-2015 states, “Seminar is an opportunity to develop a sense of community...” That “sense of community,” however, appears to exclude the community of Christian faith.

Cited Articles and Posts:

CBN News (13 Nov 2014)

FOX 21 News (11 Nov 2014)

The Daily Signal (11 Nov 2014)

The Gazette (11 Nov 2014)

Pine Creek High School Student/Parent Handbook (2014 - 2015)

Posted on Thursday, November 13 @ 11:23:35 MST by admin

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