In 2006, Bonnie Cole, a practicing Christian, became the Assistant Principal at Bullard Elementary School in Cobb County, Georgia. In 2014, she and other teachers began introducing children to yoga exercises that involved breathing and stretching and meditation in order to help kids reduce their stress and relax.
It seemed to work. The school reported a 33% decrease in disruptive behavior and policy violations following the introduction of those yoga sessions.
But it wasn’t long before some parents began to complain that Cole was “trying to indoctrinate their children with Buddhism.” They also claimed she read kids a book called “Peaceful Piggy Meditation” to further indoctrinate the kids… even though the book had a Jewish author and never mentioned Buddhism.
It got worse. One day in 2016, parents held a prayer rally “for Jesus to rid the school of Buddhism.” A couple of parents even prayed outside Cole’s office the following day.
At this point, the school board along with administrators should’ve told the parents to back off. There was no religious indoctrination going on and Cole wasn’t doing anything wrong.
They didn’t do that. Later that month, they shut down the yoga sessions and, according to Cole’s eventual lawsuit, “voted to move Ms. Cole to another school 16 miles further from her home.” The move to a new school added a full hour to her commute.
In the lawsuit filed in 2017, Cole said this amounted to “reverse religious discrimination” — meaning she was discriminated against for religious views she didn’t even hold. She was punished, she claimed, for not being sufficiently Christian enough for the community’s liking.
Not only was the capitulation and transfer a humiliating and public demonstration of the District’s lack of support of Ms. Cole, it made clear to the community that religious activities will be allowed as long as they are part of the “accepted” religion of Christianity as understood and practiced by members of the CCSD Board of Education and Defendant [Superintendent Chris] Ragsdale.
Cole also sued for retaliation by the school board, saying they didn’t support her despite “wild and baseless accusations” made against her by a group of parents and, in fact, punished her due to those complaints.
The district says religion had nothing to do with their decision to transfer Cole; they just wanted to “restore order” to the school.
The case hasn’t been decided yet, but a judge made an important decision on Friday: Instead of dismissing the case, like Cobb County wanted, he said the case would go before a jury later this year.
Judge William “Billy” Ray, II, said he thought Cole’s legal case was a “marginal” one, but he sided against Cobb, which had asked for dismissal. He said a jury must decide whether religion motivated the school officials’ actions or whether their decision against yoga advanced a Christian cause. A trial could begin by fall.
That’s a huge temporary victory for Cole, whose desire to help children was ruined by a school board that capitulated to angry Christian parents too ignorant to realize that stretching and controlling one’s breathing aren’t the same as proselytizing. May Cole win, and may she get the back pay, benefits, and legal fees she deserves.
(Image via Shutterstock)