In a California lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, an elementary school principal is alleging that the Goleta Union School District threatened to end his employment contract after he appeared in a short video promoting a community prayer breakfast honoring local teachers.
Foothill School Principal Craig Richter says he did not participate in the actual event which welcomed all religious faiths, but claims the school district sought to discipline him for endorsing the prayer breakfast. The 30-second video message featured Richter and a number of other area education administrators, including a Santa Barbara-area school superintendent and a local teacher.
In his videotaped message, Richter identifies himself as the principal of Foothill School, though he does not specifically identify his school district (~0:50):
In the promotional video, Richter says teachers are "inspiring."
"For educators to be acknowledged and prayed for is both an encouragement and an honor," he says.
According to Richter, district officials decided not to participate in the event and gave no indication at the time that they might be concerned about promoting religion. However, after a district board member reviewed the video and complained, the district concluded that Richter may have violated the so-called “separation between church and state” and threatened to end his contract in March 2011, placing him on a disciplinary “performance plan.”
“It’s ridiculous to punish and fire a Christian administrator simply because he wanted to honor teachers at an event that includes prayer,” says Joseph Infranco, a senior attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, an alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations who defend the free exercise of religion. “Principal Richter did absolutely nothing wrong by appearing in the ad, which welcomed all Santa Barbara community members to join the half-century-old community event. The district’s contention that he was somehow violating the Constitution is not only unfounded, but absurd, as the video itself demonstrates.”
“Personally endorsing a prayer event that invites people of all faiths to honor teachers should not be twisted into a constitutional violation,” said William Rehwald, an ADF-allied attorney who is serving as Richter's lead counsel in the case. “Principal Richter did a good thing, not a bad thing, and should keep his job.”