Wilson Middle School

A principal who reportedly threatened to fire any teacher who helped with the organization of a campus Fellowship of Christian Athletes club is getting a warning letter from a civil rights organization.

The Rutherford Institute, a Virginia-based civil liberties group, sent the letter to Don Curtis, principal of Wilson Middle School in Fishersville, Va.

“By intimidating teachers, through threat of termination, into refusing to provide the same types of administrative assistance to the FCA as are made available to other student groups, Principal Curtis has pitted himself in direct opposition to the spirit of the First Amendment,” said Rutherford President John W. Whitehead.

“School administrators need to act immediately to correct the erroneous impression conveyed by the principal’s e-mail that religion has no place in the public schools,” he said.

According to a report from WHSV-TV in Harrisonburg, Va., Curtis denied he meant for the note to teachers to stir up controversy or deter the group from forming. He told the station the “tone” of his memo to faculty members “was taken out of context.”

The note, according to WHSV, explained students were trying to form a Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

“As I trust common sense and your elementary knowledge of the law should remind you, the Constitution includes an amendment that expects ‘The government will not establish any religion.’ This has been legally stated and supported through case law, interpreted to mean for schools that the school or its employees will not perpetuate, support or establish any religion at school,” the principal’s note said.

“This means teachers can’t support or participate in religious activities while in the official role of a teacher. … Be as religious as you want when you’re not in your official role as a teacher. Your official role as a teacher starts anytime you’re involved with students.

“Please check with me or your attorney if you need clarification so I can avoid termination proceedings for those of you that don’t believe me or wish to test this concept,” Curtis wrote. “I’m being somewhat of a smart a&*, but I trust ‘You’re feeling me!'”

He subsequently explained that the e-mail was sent to faculty to remind teachers “to be professional.”

“I presented this in my candid style, intended for my faculty. I’ve been told it was intimidating but I had no intention other than to remind the staff of my expectations of their legal and professional behavior,” he explained.

There’s actually a little more to it than that, Whitehead wrote in his letter today to Curtis.

“While the First Amendment does prohibit the government from establishing a religion, it likewise prohibits the government from exhibiting hostility toward religion, interfering with the free exercise thereof, and discriminating against expressive activities based on the religious viewpoint of the expression,” he explained.

“The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment does not permit government – including school officials – to subject religious individuals or groups to unique disabilities,” Whitehead said.

“The United State Supreme Court has specifically addressed the issue of faculty involvement with religious student groups, and has ruled that such involvement does not conflict with constitutional principles where teachers or other school employees are merely involved with the club for purposes of administration or oversight,” he said.

“I hope this information is helpful to you, and that you will use it to immediately correct the impression conveyed by your e-mail that the budding FCA group should be shunned by your staff,” Whitehead wrote.


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