Wednesday, November 19, 2014

High schooler suspended after preaching claims religious persecution, sues

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer via the Houston Chronicle:

An Everett high school student who claims he was wrongly suspended for loudly sharing his Christian faith has sued the school district, claiming his Constitutional rights were violated.

Michael Leal proselytized to his classmates at Cascade High School and passed out lengthy, mass-produced religious tracts, to the apparent annoyance of school administrators. Leal was suspended three times after he refused to tone down his freeform sermons and stop handing out Bible verses.

With the help of a national Christian rights organization, Leal filed a federal lawsuit Monday against the Everett School District, his school principal and others. In it, he contends he was subjected to religious discrimination during a months-long fight with school staff over his sermons and pamphleteering.

More here.

You know, the only "disruptive" activity really mentioned in the article is that this kid used what the district describes as an "amplification device," even though it was at a "bonfire and car bash," an already presumably loud and raucous event, not a classroom or school assembly.

This is very disturbing to me for all kinds of reasons. We don't have "freedom from religion" in this country. We have separation of church and state. That is, schools cannot proselytize. But students aren't schools; they're citizens. Protected by multiple clauses in the first amendment, students in public schools definitely CAN proselytize. I mean, okay, there's a potential problem if a kid wants to preach at the same time his algebra teacher is trying to get across FOIL or some such, but this account in the Houston Chronicle makes it sound like it never even came close to that.

From personal experience, as both a teacher and a student, I know that when school officials start talking about "disruption" it can mean literally anything. Your Rolling Stones t-shirt is "disruptive." Your hair color is "disruptive." Your registering discontent with disciplinary policy is "disruptive." In actual practice, being "disruptive" in a public school setting means that you're doing something teachers and administrators don't like.

But whatever. Kids can preach, hand out tracts, save souls, whatever, as long as it's not truly disruptive, meaning making it impossible for teachers to do their jobs. Of course, we don't really know what's going on with this situation. All we have is a lawsuit and some statements issued by the district. But if I were a betting man, I'd put some serious money on this being a district overreaction.

Generally, schools are paranoid about religion, and they're paranoid about anything they don't control, and this kid's personal crusade appears to combine both paranoias. Whatever. He seems to be well within his rights. Schools are also paranoid about involvement in any and all public controversy.

Well, now they've got one. All because they're too afraid to let this play itself out.