California School District Sued, Accused Of Censorship

| by Diana Kruzman
Plaintiff David Dionne in front of the Antelope Valley Union High School District officesPlaintiff David Dionne in front of the Antelope Valley Union High School District offices

A California school district is facing a lawsuit and allegations of censorship over its refusal to publish scholarship opportunities offered by a nontheist group.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, with the Antelope Valley Freethinkers, and AVF President David Dionne filed the lawsuit on April 12 in California federal court, according to a news release by the FFRF. The case against the Antelope Valley Union High School District, located in Lancaster, California, just a few hours away from Los Angeles, centers around the district’s refusal to include AVF’s scholarship opportunities in the lists it offers to students, despite the organization’s requests since 2014.

The scholarships offered by AVF, an affiliate of Atheists United that was founded in 2007, ask students to respond to essay prompts such as "Being a Young Freethinker in the Antelope Valley," according to the Antelope Valley Times. When the scholarship was first offered in 2014, Dionne hoped it would assist students who feel connected to the organization’s message and need help to get to college.

"This scholarship is the first of its kind in the Antelope Valley," Dionne told the Antelope Valley Times. "Our members have generously donated their time and resources to benefit the freethinking students in our community. We hope to encourage and inspire future leaders who champion reason, science, and secular ethics to meet the challenges of the 21st century."

However, the school district refused to show the scholarship to students because of complaints that it received from parents, who said the district  appeared to "promote anti-religious expression" and had "aggressive" and "argumentative undertones towards religion,” according to the FFRF's press release. AVF offered to modify the wording of their scholarships, but those offers were reportedly rejected.

In 2014, the school district's general counsel, Bridget L. Cook, said that "since the district is a limited public forum, we reserve the right to determine what information we allow to be disseminated in our schools." The AVF's follow-up complaints received no response.

Sources: Freedom From Religion Foundation, Antelope Valley Times / Photo Credit: David Dionne/FFRF

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