Church/state separation advocates have been saying for a long time that prayer is perfectly legal is public schools. Even though teachers and administrators can’t lead them, students are welcome to pray on their own time. They can form Christian clubs after school, too, just like everyone else.
What they can’t do is pretend their religion gives them special rights. Yet, that’s exactly what Michael Leal, a senior at Cascade High School in Washington, is claiming. Leal has been obnoxiously preaching his faith during school events, creating a disturbance everywhere he goes. School officials told him to knock it off — so, of course, he’s suing them claiming his free speech rights are under attack:
Brad Dacus, president of [legal defense group] Pacific Justice Institute, commented, “It is deeply troubling to see a school district dig in its heels on a policy that is so clearly unconstitutional. We are eager to vindicate Mr. Leal’s rights and prevent him from being expelled for simply sharing his deeply-held beliefs. We need more high school seniors, not less, who have strong moral convictions and are concerned about their fellow students.”
Seattle attorney Conrad Reynoldson is serving as PJI’s local counsel in this case. Mr. Reynoldson noted, “The policies and procedures we are challenging in this case would prevent students from handing out not only Gospel tracts, but copies of the Constitution itself. This is an egregious violation of student rights that should concern people of all faiths and philosophical persuasions. We simply cannot allow the government to impose these types of sweeping speech restrictions.”
That’s complete bullshit, though, since a student who loudly disrupted events to hand out the Constitution would be told to stop, too. That wouldn’t mean school officials aren’t patriots.
Here’s what Leal was doing that forced the school to take action:
The district’s lawyers say his activities — including an amplified 20-minute extemporaneous sermon at a school “car bash and bonfire” — have created a “substantial disruption” at the school, according to a letter written to Leal’s attorneys.
On Oct. 1, Leal attended the bonfire event on the high-school campus, where the lawsuit said school officials twice interrupted his preaching — first at the bonfire and again at a nearby dance. Leal said he also was handing out religious tracts.
Two days later, the lawsuit alleges Leal went to a school volleyball game, where he “walked around the school among the other attendees, and gave tracts to parents and students who wanted one.”
Despite further warnings by school administrators, Leal continued what his attorneys call his “expressive activities” at the school, during lunch breaks and in classes, which led to a second suspension, this time for three days.
It’s not just that he wants to talk about Jesus, which would be fine. It’s that he’s doing it during his classes and at school events, creating an atmosphere that makes everyone around him feel uncomfortable. The school asking him to stop has nothing to do with his Christianity and everything to do with making sure school remains a relatively safe space where all students feel comfortable. The same rule would apply if a student was preaching anything in that manner — not just a personal faith. Hell, I would expect school officials to step in if a student didn’t shower, too. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with it, per se, but if other students can’t concentrate in class because you’re creating a distraction, the adults need to do something.
Since neither Leal nor his attorneys can put themselves in everyone else’s shoes, though, they’re playing the Christian Persecution card.
If he ends up winning the lawsuit, may I suggest that a brave student at Cascade put Lucien’s Law into effect and begin preaching Satanism in the same manner as Leal?
Let’s see PJI defend that.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Jaynee for the link)