For the third time since 2007, and the second time in only a few weeks, teachers at Temecula Valley Unified School District in California have been accused of bullying students because of their faith.
In the most recent episode, a teacher told a first-grader, “You’re not allowed to talk about the Bible in school.”
School officials told WND they were investigating the accusation at Helen Hunt-Jackson Elementary and couldn’t comment further.
The teacher gave each child in the class a canvas bag with instruction to find something at home that represented a family Christmas tradition, put it in the bag, bring it to school and share it.
The legal team explained: “Brynn took the Star of Bethlehem from the top of the family Christmas tree to represent her family’s tradition of remembering why Christmas is celebrated. Brynn worked diligently on a one-minute presentation in order to explain to the class that her family’s tradition is to remember the birth of Jesus at Christmas time.”
But when Brynn started her presentation Dec. 19 at school, she got a surprise.
She began: “Our Christmas tradition is to put a star on top of our tree. The star is named the Star of Bethlehem. The three kings followed the star to find baby Jesus, the Savior of the world. John … ”
At that point, she was interrupted by the teacher, who said: “Stop right there! Go take your seat!”
Then the teacher told the entire class that Brynn was not allowed to talk about the Bible or share any verses.
“The disapproval and hostility that Christian students have come to experience in our nation’s public schools has become epidemic. I hope that TVUSD will take the lead role in adopting a model policy to prohibit this abuse that has become all too common place for religious-minded students,” said Robert Tyler, general counsel for Advocates for Faith & Freedom.
The legal team said the incident came just days after a teacher at West Covina Unified School District told first-grader Isaiah Martinez that “Jesus is not allowed in school.”
It happened when Martinez took Christmas gifts intended for his teacher and classmates at Merced Elementary. Each gift consisted of a traditional candy cane with a message attached that recited the legend of the candy cane. The legend references a candy maker who created it to symbolize the life of Jesus Christ.
But his teacher took the candy canes and told Isaiah, “Jesus is not allowed in school,” ripping the message from each candy cane and throwing them in the trash.
The case at Temecula wasn’t the first there, and the Advocates group is demanding a new policy to prohibit school officials from expressing disapproval or hostility toward religion.
An apology to Brynn also is requested.
Tyler noted in a 16-page letter to the school that he previously sent a letter to Temecula officials last October, asking “that the district provide staff training and compliance to educational rules and regulations as they relate to religious freedom.”
The letter, he said, “was sent on behalf of an unrelated middle school student whose religious liberties were infringed upon by one of his teachers.”
That was because of an incident at Marguerita Middle School, the group said.
At that time, a student chose the Bible to read as part of a nonfiction reading assignment, but the teacher reportedly ridiculed it as fiction.
The Advocates noted: “In 2007, we sent a similar letter to the district because of hostility expressed by Teacher Karen Moreland toward students in another classroom setting.”
In a letter addressed to Supt. Timothy Ritter, Tyler asked the district to comply with the Constitution.
“We demand that the school district adopt an official policy that expressly prohibits school officials (including teachers) from adopting any action and from engaging in any expression that can reasonably be viewed by a religiously affiliated student as disapproval of the students’ religion or hostile toward the student’s religion,” he wrote.
“This policy will also need to affirm the right of students to express and communicate their own religious viewpoints on school property without fear of rebuke by school officials. This will help to ensure that young students are not intimidated by school officials into believing that there is something wrong with their religion or their religious views.”
He continued, “As you may know, the violation of an individual’s constitutional rights, even for a moment, results in irreparable injury.”
The letter explained, “In the eyes of a vulnerable first-grader, the teacher’s action was not only disapproving of Christianity, but hostile toward Christianity and, therefore, unconstitutional.”
In Brynn’s case, her mother, Gina Williams, met with the principal who “informed her that California’s Educational Codes support the teacher’s actions.”
“The principal explained that the school district has strict rules about sharing beliefs publicly because there have been lawsuits. The principal had apparently spoken to the teacher and said that the teacher had to stop Brynn because ‘we don’t want to offend other students,’” the Advocates explain.
But the letter to the school district quoted from the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing the “principal use to which the schools are dedicated is to accommodate students during prescribed hours for the purpose of certain types of activities.”
“Among those activities is personal intercommunication among the students. This is not only an inevitable part of the process of attending school; it is also an important part of the educational process. A students’ rights, therefore, do not embrace merely the classroom hours. When he is in the cafeteria, or on the playing field, or on the campus during authorized hours, [s]he may express [her] opinions, even on controversial subjects.”
The Advocates team said Brynn “felt as if she had done something seriously wrong.”
“In the eyes of a first-grader, the censorship resulted in a message of governmental disapproval and created a hostile environment, especially since it felt like she was being reprimanded in front of the entire class for sharing her family tradition and beliefs,” the team said.