Garden City Community College in Kansas just paid out $87,500 to six plaintiffs as part of a settlement involving the conduct of administrators. There were many complaints made against GCCC President Herbert Swender (who was fired in 2018) and his team, but one in particular says they forced faculty members to join them in Christian prayer despite the fact that this is a public school.
The lawsuit also alleged that Swender imposed prayer at mandatory in-service meetings, violating the plaintiffs’ and other employees’ rights to freedom of religion.
Swender, at the beginning of his tenure at GCCC in 2011, regularly arranged for Protestant prayers and only Protestant prayers to be given at the in-service meetings, the suit said.
“The repeated Protestant prayers, the requirement to bow heads, the talk by Pastor (Ricky) Griffin, and the declaration of Pastor (Nathan) Sheridan as the College’s Pastor disturbed Plaintiffs and violated their constitutional rights,” the suit said. “They felt very uncomfortable that their employer, a public entity, was trying to establish Protestant Christianity as the College’s Religion.”
The lawsuit includes details that are far more damning than that summary:
This forced submission to a particular religious viewpoint was not isolated, but pervasive and on-going during his seven-year tenure… In one such meeting [Swender] also had another Protestant pastor give a 45-minute testimonial about his Christian values and the founding of his flourishing church in Texas. That pastor concluded with an instruction to the captive audience of public employees to bow their heads in prayer and he invoked the Christian God in his prayer.
The school has since implemented a religious freedom policy that makes sure such proselytizing never happens again. That’s a good sign, but it makes you wonder why such a policy wasn’t in place earlier and what the school would have done if these plaintiffs didn’t courageously do something about it. Just think about how many administrators at that school refused to stand up to Swender despite knowing all of this was illegal. Either they lacked courage or basic legal knowledge, and neither is acceptable for people in those positions.
GCCC has now issued a bland press release acknowledging the settlement with phrases claiming they “respect all employees” and that they’re “committed to a culture of respect.” That must be news to the faculty members who decided a lawsuit was the only way they were ever going to see change.
In any case, the money is really an afterthought here. It’s about change. And the school will be a better place because mandatory Christianity is no longer a part of it. Good riddance to Swender and everyone who allowed him to trample over his staff’s rights for years.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Brian for the link)