A Christian teenager in Washington state is suing his school district in federal court amid claims that he was suspended on three separate occasions for passing out Bible verses and preaching aloud at school-sponsored events.
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Michael Leal, a student at Cascade High School in Everett, Washington, has admitted to passing out Bible-based literature and to sharing his Christian views, though he defends his right to do so, according to UPI.
But while Leal — who reportedly faces expulsion if he refuses to stop — is arguing in a lawsuit that his rights were violated with unfair punishments, the school claims that he has continued to pose a "substantial disruption," which is what official say led to the three infractions.
"At no time was Mr. Leal told that his distribution of material or his statements were inappropriate at school because of their religious content," school attorney Michael Patterson said in an October 27 letter to Leal's attorney. "Rather, he was informed of District policy ... and told that he needed to comply with it. He was also informed that he could not create a substantial disruption at school or school events."
Leal is being represented by the conservative Pacific Legal Institute alongside an attorney named Conrad Reynoldson.
At the center of the debate are the purported disruptions Leal is said to have caused, with the school district and the teen's attorney's offering varying accounts of what unfolded. While the district claims Leal's peers complained over his proselytizing, his attorneys offer a more subdued version of events.
"It is deeply troubling to see a school district dig in its heels on a policy that is so clearly unconstitutional," Pacific Justice Institute Brad Dacus said in a statement. "We are eager to vindicate Mr. Leal’s rights and prevent him from being expelled for simply sharing his deeply-held beliefs."
According to the complaint, the student's problems with administration began on September 3 when he passed out tracts during lunch — an event that allegedly landed him in the principal's office, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Then, Leal appeared at an evening event in October, loudly preaching to students and handing out tracts. He was reportedly approached by the principal during the school-sanctioned event and asked to stop; when he declined, the police were called to stop the "substantial disruption."
Authorities spoke with Leal, but didn't take any further action, the outlet reported. The student was, however, suspended the next day. Just a few days later, Leal again handed out tracts at another school event on October 8, further drawing the ire of administrators.
He was suspended most recently on October 31 when he was seen passing a tract to another student in math class, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported.
Officials say they were simply attempting to stop what they deemed to be continuos acts of disruption, but Leal's attorney's counter that the teen did not harass or bother others with his activities.
"Leal has not now, nor has he ever, used preaching or distribution of literature, to harass, intimidate, or bully any students, school employees, or others on campus," read court documents filed on Leal's behalf.
Leal and his attorneys believe that the school unfairly cracked down on his religious and constitutional rights.
Read more about the ongoing battle here.
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