A Colorado teen is claiming that public school officials told him and his peers that they are no longer welcome to meet, pray together and discuss religious subjects during instructional time, restricting his informal meetings to before or after the school day.
The accusation waged by Pine Creek High School senior Chase Windebank led the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal firm, to file a federal lawsuit last Friday, urging the school district to reconsider its stance.
According to a press release distributed by the organization, Windebank was told that the separation of church and state barred religious speech during the school day, which officials referred to as instructional time.
Chad Windebank claims his free speech rights are being restricted (Alliance Defending Freedom)
The so-called "Open Time Policy" reportedly allows pupils to leave class 15 minutes after homeroom period begins on Mondays and Wednesdays, with students who have grades above a "D" being allowed to do the same on Fridays.
During this time, the Alliance Defending Freedom claims that students can engage in activities ranging from sending text messages to reading. Windebank and his peers used this time to pray together and talk about religious subject matter.
But after three years of meeting on Mondays and Fridays in a choir room to pray, sing Christian music and discuss their faith, an assistant principal reportedly told Windebank that the religious conversation would need to stop during the school day.
The legal firm alleges that this proclamation came down September 29, with assistant principal James Lucas reportedly citing the "separation of church and state" as the reason why faith-based discussion would be restricted to before or after school.
As a result, Windebank's robust meeting that sometimes included up to 90 students is said to have dwindled, at times, to just 12 participants, as many were unavailable to meet before 7:45 a.m. or after the school day ended at 2:45 p.m.
Academy School District 20 officials defended the decision to restrict this speech when the firm's attorneys reached out to discuss the issue last month.
"Seminar at Pine Creek is not homeroom time. It is class time and it is considered instructional time," an attorney for the school district wrote, rebutting some of the law firm's claims. "No non-curricular clubs are permitted to meet during that time period at Pine Creek High School."
Read that letter below:
Alliance Defending Freedom
But the Alliance Defending Freedom has argued that Pine Creek High School and its parent district are violating the free speech rights of students, filing Windebank v. Academy School District 20 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.
"Public schools should encourage the free exchange of ideas," said attorney Jeremy Tedesco. "Instead, this school implemented an ill-conceived ban that singles out religious speech for censorship during free time."