Officials at a California public grade school who dispatched a sheriff’s deputy to stop a 7-year-old from sharing Bible verses with his classmates because someone could be “offended” now are being warned of “civil rights violations.”
The student regularly shared notes from his mother containing Bible verses that were tucked into his lunch at Desert Rose Elementary School in the Palmdale, California, School District, which declined to respond to a WND request for comment.
A media spokesman for the sheriff’s office told WND he knew nothing about the deputy visiting the 7-year-old’s home at the request of school officials and declined to comment.
But Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit litigation, education and policy group emphasizing religious liberties, has sent a letter to the school regarding its “unconstitutional suppression and censorship of student religious speech.”
The organization said it demanded that Desert Rose “correct an outrageous violation of a first grader’s constitutional rights.”
“The situation started with an encouraging note and Bible verse from mom Christina Zavala, tucked into a packed lunch for her little boy (‘C’),” Liberty Counsel explained. “The seven-year-old boy read the note and verse, and showed them to his friends during lunch time at school.”
Soon multiple students at C’s school were asking for copies of the notes, which included short stories from the Bible, Liberty Counsel reported.
“However, when one little girl said ‘teacher – this is the most beautiful story I’ve ever seen,’ ‘separation of church and state’ was the response, and the notes were banned from lunchtime distribution. C was told that the school gate was the only location at which he could give the Bible verses to his friends, and only after the bell rang,” the organization explained.
Then, however, C was reprimanded by his teacher in front of the whole class, twice, and told to stop talking about religion or sharing his mother’s notes, and he went home in tears, Liberty Counsel said.
Even as the crowd of students asking for the after-school Bible notes grew, on May 9, Principal Melanie Pagliaro approached Zavala and demanded that the notes only be handed out somewhere beyond school property.
With the school not satisfied with only the banishment, Liberty Counsel said, “a Los Angeles deputy sheriff knocked at the door of C’s home, demanding that C’s note-sharing cease altogether because ‘someone might be offended.’”
“This is a clear, gross violation of the rights of a child. That the school district enlisted a police officer to intimidate C and his family makes this case even more outrageous,” Liberty Counsel contended.
“I would expect something like this to happen in Communist Romania, where I went to elementary school, but cops don’t bully 7-year-olds who want to talk about Jesus in the Land of the Free,” said Horatio “Harry” Mihet, vice president of legal affairs and chief litigation counsel of Liberty Counsel.
The letter to the district said Liberty Counsel, “having reviewed the above facts, district policies, and applicable law, it is clear that the actions of the district staff in this instance, in prohibiting voluntary student religious expression during non-instructional time; then completely banning such student expression from school property entirely, and finally calling the police to report the same are simply unconstitutional.”
“These actions must be disavowed and reversed, to avoid liability for civil rights violations,” the letter said.
It gave the district a deadline for responding of June 1, which was ignored.
“The district simply cannot prohibit student speech during non-instructional time, where that speech is neither lewd, obscene, or indecent. … The district cannot prohibit spontaneous student verbal speech, or handwritten notes passed between students, during non-instructional time, or require (legally, or practically), prior review of all student expression, before it is permitted.”
Students regularly exchange items such as Christmas cards and birthday party invitations.
“Therefore, it was improper to ban student religious discussion during lunch time. The district cannot suppress and censor this discussion, or the one-page notes consisting of Bible stories and verses placed by C’s mother in C’s lunch for his own personal enjoyment and edification; which he voluntarily chose to share with his little friends during non-instructional time; which interested classmates were free to accept or refuse, at their own discretion,” the letter said.
“If being censured for religious expression by one’s first grade teacher in front of one’s classmates is not intimidating and humiliating enough, the message of hostility to a child’s religious expression is underscored by the district calling law enforcement for a ‘follow-up visit’ to his house,” it said.
The letter was sent to Supt. Raul Maldonado, Pagliaro and board members Juan Carillo, Nancy Smith, Joyce Ricks, Dennis Trujillo and Sharon Vega.