A Colorado teacher is suing his school district claiming the district’s only high school “operates largely to promote the evangelical Christian ideals” of a local church that operates in the school.
Robert Basevitz’s lawsuit against the Fremont Re-2 School District was filed Tuesday in federal court in Denver. School district officials said they have not been served and could not yet comment.
Randy Pfaff, the pastor of The Cowboy Church at Crossroads, said he will not apologize for being in Florence High School.
“I don’t believe the Constitution was meant to keep God out of the schools. That’s absolutely absurd,” Pfaff told The Denver Post on Tuesday in a phone interview. “This nation was founded on Christianity.”
Pfaff’s evangelical church, which rents cafeteria space at Florence High for Sunday morning services, hosts prayer every morning before school around the flagpole and hosts Bible study and pizza during lunch in a school classroom.
Pfaff said having prayer every morning was a student’s idea almost four years ago. He can no longer recall who that student was.
Basevitz’s attorney, Paul Maxon, said the school’s involvement with the church created an environment where Basevitz, who is Jewish, felt excluded. According to the lawsuit, students have singled him out for being Jewish.
“Public institutions are supposed to be equally welcoming and accepting of everybody,” Maxon said Tuesday, “but Mr. Basevitz didn’t find a welcoming atmosphere.”
Pfaff said no student or staff member is forced to participate in activities, saying it is all voluntary.
But Maxon argues school officials cross the line to endorsing religion when they make announcements over the school intercom system and distribute literature that includes Scripture and Bibles.
“This is not one or two isolated incidents. On a single day, there were no less than five school-sponsored religious events,” Maxon said. “That is a pervasive involvement with religion, which is illegal.”
Claudette StPierre, president of the Denver chapter of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, said complaints about separation between religion and state are still common.
“It does happen more often than we think or that we hear about, and it doesn’t get press a lot of times because organizations like Freedom from Religion Foundation many times … work with the schools,” StPierre said. “Only if they don’t get a resolution or continue to get pushback will they take it to court.”
StPierre said about 40 percent of all complaints filed with the organization involve schools. In 2014, the organization sent out 1,053 letters based on valid complaints, she said.
Basevitz raised concerns to his school and district officials before preparing to file suit. But after filing a formal complaint with the district, officials transferred him to work at an elementary school.
The lawsuit alleges that Superintendent Rhonda Vendetti “has publicly supported Pastor Pfaff and Principal (Brian) Schipper’s religious activities despite complaints of their illegality.”
Vendetti and Schipper are also listed as defendants in the suit.
Schipper told 7News that the school is not promoting any religion.
“We’re a school. We educate kids,” said Schipper. “We educate kids in every academic area and social area and life area. Religion’s not in our curriculum anywhere.”
The lawsuit requests the school and officials stop religious activities, including sponsoring Christian prayer; sponsoring and housing The Cowboy Church at Crossroads; distributing Bibles to students; presenting Scripture to students and staff; hosting school events at Christian locations; and hosting evangelical Christian groups.
The suit also seeks “compensatory or nominal damages,” attorneys fees and litigation related costs as well as “any other relief as this Court deems just and proper.”
Pfaff said school officials around February asked him and church leaders to stay out of the school.
Maria Ibarra, a Florence student who had been asked by Pfaff to be a student leader for the church, said it came as a surprise to students that Pfaff and other church members were no longer allowed in the school.
“It was just very sudden,” Ibarra said in a phone interview. “A lot of Christians are losing their rights.”
She pointed out that the church activities, through a group called Fellowship of Christian Huskies, went on for more than three years without problems and said students valued the support.
“Every time I would go past the pole, I would pray with them and it really made my day better,” she said.
Full article here: http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_28192296/lawsuit-claims-illegal-religious-activities-at-florence-high