1st Amendment Shredded: Students Told They Can’t Talk about Religion During School Hours

PinecreekHSIn beautiful Colorado Springs, Colorado, a legal battle is building between Christian students and the school district. Central to the lawsuit is the students’ rights to free speech and religious liberty, and the concerns of the school district about violating the separation of church and state.

For the past three years, Chase Windebank, now a senior at Pine Creek High School, has been meeting informally with fellow classmates, usually in an empty choir room, to discuss their Christian faith, pray for their classmates, and sing hymns. A favorite is “Amazing Grace.”

But on September 29 of this year, Chase was summoned to the office of Assistant Principal James Lucas. Jeremy Tedesco, the attorney representing Chase in his suit against the school district, says:

He was told that he could no longer pray with his fellow students during free time because of the separation of church and state. He was told that he could pray before the school day begins or after the school day ends, but he could not do it during the school day.

Tedesco’s law firm, Alliance Defending Freedom, specializes in religious liberty cases.

The next day Chase was called into the office of Principal Kolette Back. There, it was “reaffirmed that his religious speech could not take place during the open time” period called “Seminar.”

According to the lawsuit:

Defendants Back and Lucas stated that because of the separation of church and state and because they regarded the Seminar period as instructional time, they were banning students’ discussion of issues of the day from a religious perspective during the open time of Seminar period.

A spokesman for Academy School District Number 20 confirmed the high school’s actions in a written statement:

Students were told that, according to state law and district policy, they could meet during non-instructional time. That is before or after school.

Tedesco says the primary issue is one of free speech:

Public schools should encourage the free exchange of ideas. Instead, this school implemented an ill-conceived ban that singles out religious speech for censorship during free time.

The district’s attorney, Patricia Richardson, responded in a letter to Tedesco:

No non-curricular clubs are permitted to meet during that time period at Pine Creek High School. Therefore, Mr. Windebank may resume his prayer meetings at Pine Creek High School, but he must do so during non-instructional time, that is before 7:45 a.m. when classes begin, and after 2:45 p.m., when classes end for the day.

Chase and the other Christian students are continuing to meet, but are abiding by the school’s guidelines until the suit is settled.

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