A Year After Uncovering Several Church/State Violations at His School, a Student is Suing His Former District May 19, 2015

A Year After Uncovering Several Church/State Violations at His School, a Student is Suing His Former District

Last year, Isaiah Smith graduated from high school after exposing all sorts of religious violations at his school.

For example, after getting bullied for being gay, Isaiah brought a Bible to school to show his classmates why the verses they cited didn’t actually condemn gay people. In the process, he ripped out the pages from Leviticus.

That caused Birdville High School Assistant Principal Glenn Serviente to pull Isaiah from class and warn him that he must not cause a “disruption” by ripping the Bible. (I guess the bullies were not seen as disruptive…?) Isaiah promised not to rip it up any more, but asked for (and received) permission to continue carrying that Bible with him.

But a couple of days later, Serviente summoned Isaiah back to his office:

He asked Isaiah, “how would Muslims feel if a student was tearing up the Qur-an?” and then told him he was suspended. He then demanded Isaiah to give him the book. Isaiah said no, informing Serviente that he did not tear the Bible since being told on Monday that he could not do so. The assistant principal clarified that Isaiah was suspended for merely carrying a ripped Bible at school. He then reached for Isaiah’s Bible without his permission and slammed it on his desk. First he said Isaiah was suspended from school for the remainder of the day, but then changed his mind and told Isaiah he was suspended for three days. He also confiscated Isaiah’s Bible.

At that point, the American Humanist Association stepped in and sent the district a letter letting them know they were violating the law by suspending Isaiah when, in fact, he did nothing wrong:

Reprimanding Isaiah for ripping his Bible on Monday violated the First Amendment. Isaiah’s Bible was not the source of disruption, the bullying was. Instead of reprimanding the bullies, the school punished Isaiah for offering an alternative viewpoint on the Bible.

It took a month, but the district eventually cleared Isaiah’s record of any disciplinary problems. (They gave him his Bible back, too.)

But that wasn’t all.

According to another letter the AHA sent to the district last May, the church/state separation violations just kept piling up.

The school sponsored religious Baccalaureate ceremonies.

They placed information about the ceremony on the school’s public calendar, Facebook page, and website:

The principal, Jason Wells, also spoke at the ceremony, as did other administrators, and they liberally quoted Bible verses and threw in mentions of “God” and “Jesus.”

All of those things are illegal.

The school sponsored and promoted religious assemblies during school hours.

A proselytizing pastor was invited to speak last year and the school district even sponsored overnight retreats at a local church.

Teachers had overtly Christian symbols in their classrooms.

It’s one thing for teachers to wear cross necklaces or have Bibles in their desks. It’s another thing when they place visible crosses all over their rooms:

That’s what Isaiah helped uncover.

And, once again, district officials capitulated when faced with clear evidence of their wrongdoing:

After the Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter in May to the school district reporting these violations, school officials responded promptly by collaborating with the AHLC to correct these violations while ensuring that students’ and teachers’ First Amendment rights are maintained.

“We are very pleased that the school has been willing to cooperate with us to correct these violations,” said Monica Miller, an attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “These reasonable accommodations strike the appropriate balance between free speech rights and the Establishment Clause.”

The school and the legal center agreed that principals and other school administrators cannot participate in the Baccalaureate ceremonies, though they can still attend as spectators. The school has also agreed that it will no longer hold its retreats in a church but will instead use a local community center. The school will also remove the cross displays in classrooms, though teachers may retain small, personal religious items in or near their desk space so long as the items are not obvious to students. To ensure it maintains its neutrality on religious matters, the school drafted a series of guidelines on handling First Amendment Speech and Religion issues that will be part of the annual faculty training.

That was all last year. So why am I mentioning it again?

Because the District hasn’t kept up its end of the deal. It’s still illegally pushing religion on students. And since asking politely hasn’t worked, the AHA is now filing a lawsuit with Isaiah Smith named as one of the plaintiffs.

The main offense this time are religious prayers said during school board meetings:

According to the lawsuit… the school board has had a longstanding policy of choosing students to offer Christian prayers at the beginning of public school board meetings. Smith claims that the prayers made him feel unwelcome at the public meetings and that the school board endorsed Christianity. Students and teachers also regularly attend the meetings.

“School-sponsored Christian prayers at board meetings are discriminatory,” said Monica Miller, an attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “This practice is particularly egregious because it invites young, impressionable students to deliver the prayers.”

“By beginning meetings with Christian prayers, the school board is sending a message that those of minority faiths, and of no faith, are not welcome,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association.

The AHA wrote a letter regarding the prayers late last year, but this past March, the District’s attorney told them there was no plan to stop saying them. That’s why this lawsuit is the next step.

Worth Pointing Out: Every one of the school board members mentions their religious affiliation in their official profiles. (They’re all Christian, in case you had any doubts.)

Also Worth Pointing Out: Because of the repeated violations, even after being told they were breaking the law, the suit calls for each individual board member to pay a penalty, not just the District itself.

In case you’re wondering, Isaiah (who calls himself a “progressive Christian Humanist”) plans to attend Tarrant County College (in Texas) this fall. You can visit his website here.

(Large portions of this article were published earlier)

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