ACLU Threatens Suit Over Religion In Public School

| by Jordan Smith
Prayer Rally At Airline High SchoolPrayer Rally At Airline High School

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recently sent a letter to a California school district threatening a lawsuit over a teacher’s alleged promotion of religion in a public school.

Michael Martinez of Azusa High School reportedly displays a picture of Jesus at the front of the classroom, and has verses from the Bible on the walls, according to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.

Martinez also reportedly expresses doubts about evolution during class.

“Mr. Martinez is clearly violating the constitutional rights of students at Azusa High School,” ACLU legal director Peter Eliasberg wrote in a letter to the Azusa Unified School District, the Tribune reported.

The allegations were made by one of Martinez’s students.

“If the school and district do not take immediate steps to end his improper endorsement of religion, they will likely be the subject of a lawsuit, which they will certainly lose,” Eliasberg’s letter added.

Linda Kaminski said the District was investigating the report.

“The District is aware of allegations–recently made by the ACLU–that a teacher at Azusa High School is promoting religion to students,” Kaminski said in a statement. “As a public school, the District cannot permit an establishment of religion. Students may, however, participate in meetings of student religious groups on campus on a voluntary and student-initiated basis, pursuant to the Federal Equal Access Act.”

The ACLU also alleges that Martinez promotes an off-campus religious group during class. At the group, he leads prayers and reads Bible verses.

“Teachers, as appropriate for a particular class, may objectively discuss the influence of various religions, but instruction about religion shall not promote or denigrate the beliefs or customs of any particular religion,” Kaminski added.

The ACLU has challenged similar practices in other parts of the country.

Last September, it sent a letter to the Bossier Parish School Board in Louisiana, accusing the principal of Airline High School of a “pattern of religious proselytization,” according to Slate.

Principal Jason Rowland made announcements over the school’s intercom encouraging students to pray to God, and sent out newsletters with religious messages.

Local churches and religious organizations held protests to oppose the ACLU’s actions. But other students spoke out against the promotion of religion at the school.

“My freshman year, my science teacher also showed a video referencing why creationism should be taught in schools and how certain things cannot be proved by science,” a former Airline student told Slate.

Sources: San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Slate/ Photo credit: Zack Kopplin/Slate

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