Can You Help with a Colorado Lawsuit? December 23, 2008

Can You Help with a Colorado Lawsuit?

The Freedom From Religion Foundation could use the help of a Colorado citizen who has a child in the Cherry Creek School District in Denver.

A brief background of the case: Last year, Cherry Creek Schools began promoting “40 Developmental Assets” — a program that would help students become “responsible and confident young adults.” That’s all well and good.

The problem was Asset Number 19. It suggested “young adults spend one or more hours per week in activities in a religious institution.”


FFRF filed a lawsuit against this endorsement of religion. Obviously, no one needs to be active in a church in order to be a responsible and confident young adult. And this was a breach of church/state separation. FFRF filed the complaint on behalf of parents who had children in the district.

The lawsuit (PDF) was soon thrown out:

In throwing out the Foundation’s original lawsuit, District Judge Maria S. Krieger gave the Foundation 10 days to address her concerns. Krieger held that the 40 Developmental Assets program have “a secular purpose” and ruled that the Foundation could not challenge only one of the 40 assets, but had to contest “the overall package.” She challenged the Foundation to provide facts “sufficient to show that the program, in its full context, advances religion.” Krieger expressed “some doubt” that the Foundation could meet her challenge.

That wasn’t a problem. As it turned out, there were more problems with the Assets than just Number 19.

The Foundation’s refilings document the religious origins and purpose of the assets. “Each of the Assets has a stated biblical underpinning and the history of the Assets program clearly shows that religion is at its core,” states [Foundation attorney Robert R.] Tiernan. Each asset is actually based on specific biblical references. “Service to others,” for instance, is explicitly based on 1 Isaiah 6 and Romans 12:9-13. Revealing affidavits by two Denver men familiar with the “40 Assets” programs were also filed.

“Plaintiffs contend that the 40 Assets taken as a whole constitute a moral code for young people promulgated by the Lutheran religion or a sect thereof,” which violates the First Amendment, as does Asset 19 taken separately.

There’s a smoking gun (PDF), too — a document listing the Biblical references that contributed to creating the 40 Assets, written by the Search Institute (originally known as the Lutheran Youth Group):

The 40 Developmental Assets were developed by the Search Institute… and it is the Foundation’s belief it continues to be heavily financed by the Lutheran Brotherhood. Institute Board Members include representatives of the National Council of Churches, the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, Outreach National Baptist and National Network of Youth Ministries.

The current problem: Since one of the children represented in the lawsuit has graduated, “FFRF is down to a single plaintiff.”

They need someone who supports separation of church and state (not necessarily an atheist) and has a child in the district to join the suit.

This has to happen quickly. No cost is involved. It won’t take up much of your time, either. Anonymity will be preserved.

If you’re interested and able, the relevant contact information can be found here.

(via Splendid Elles)


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Becky

    I really, really wish I could help.

  • Emily

    This is pretty common. I’m from Canada, and once at work (I worked for an anti-smoking group in grade 12) we were commissioned to organize a youth forum where teens in our city could get together and talk about the city’s problems, what it can do for young people, etc.

    So in preparation for organizing this, we were given one of these brochures that outlined common traits among successful teens (supportive parents, having a meaningful hobby, stuff like that). One of them was attending religious services. I was pretty taken aback, but my boss explained to me that they found that people who go to church are somewhat more prepared for a “real” social life (rather than just, say, sticking with your high school pack all through life– not that there’s anything wrong with that, but you should branch out at some point) because they interact with all age groups, and they have a support group of the same people, who get to know them, the whole time they go to that church.

    I don’t disagree, but i bet attending any regular service, club meeting, etc. has the same effect.

  • Rat Bastard

    Not from Colorado, unfortunately…

  • Jason

    Didn’t the BSA have a similar requirement for being “morally straight”, etc? How did that end up turning out?

  • Oh, I think the Boy Scout case (Dale v. Boy Scouts of America), was resolved in favor of the Scouts.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s what I seem to recall.

  • DSimon

    She challenged the Foundation to provide facts “sufficient to show that the program, in its full context, advances religion.”

    Isn’t this like saying that a high school biology course which teaches Creationism for a week and proper science for the rest isn’t advancing religion because the “program in its full context” doesn’t “advance religion”?

  • Christine

    Hot damn! I graduated from a Cherry Creek School District high school in May, so unfortunately I can’t personally help, but I obviously know plenty of people still in the school district however, so I can spread this around.

    I’m surprised I didn’t know about this considering that, at the time of that news article you posted, my dad was still on the Cherry Creek school board…

  • Colin M

    This makes me feel squicky… in high school I participated in a community organization that used this same list of assets from the Search Institute. I had no idea at the time that the Search Institute was religiously-based, but sure enough at the bottom of one of their newsletters is the following:

    “Major support for Search Institute’s Healthy Communities Healthy Youth initiative is provided by Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.”

    So I know at least one other school district (in Minnesota) using this same list of assets.

  • Alyce

    My sister (Christine, above) and I have both graduated from Cherry Creek Schools, and like she said our dad was once on its school board.

    The people I know that would be interested in the lawsuit have either graduated, or are Cherry Creek faculty and would have a lot to lose by taking part (the politics within the district are pretty ridiculous). I will definitely spread this around though, and hopefully someone will step forward!

  • I, too, graduated from Cherry Creek School district, Overland High, to be exact, back in 1998. I’ll pass this along to some of my friends still in Colorado, hopefully the FFRF will find someone. I’d hate to see my old Alma Mater go down this road.

  • This is exactly the same Search Institute survey that Stu Tanquist wrote about in Parenting Beyond Belief. His daughter was required to take the survey in a public high school in Burnsville Minnesota, he challenged it, the school stonewalled, he contacted FFRF. One letter from Annie Laurie Gaylor got the survey dropped from the curriculum.

    That said…yes, the Search Institute has religious roots, but it has restructured into a secular organization in the past decade or so. I think there is much to be said for their asset-based approach, so long as the religious overtones are pulled out — something they’ve clearly not done well enough yet.

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