The parents of a Nevada charter school student, who was told she couldn’t mention her Christian faith in a class project, is demanding an apology from the school and says they are willing to sue the school if they don’t get.
A few months ago at Somerset Academy, near Las Vegas, a teacher allegedly told 12-year-old Mackenzie Fraiser that she had to remove a Bible verse — specifically John 3:16 — from a PowerPoint assignment titled “All About Me," TheBlaze reported.
Mackenzie, whose father, 37-year-old Tim Fraiser, is a pastor at nearby Grace Point Church, apparently believed that the verse was an important part of her story. In an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal earlier this week, Mackenzie said that when the teacher asked her to remove the quotation from her project, she just figured she shouldn’t complain and removed the slide. But, she said, she felt like she was being told she shouldn’t discuss her religious beliefs at school.
Mackenzie never told her parents about the incident until last month when she was discussing a new project with them. The new assignment was to develop a presentation on self-esteem. Her dad suggested she add a Bible verse.
Fraiser told TheBlaze he was upset by what his daughter told him.
“We were talking about [that], as a Christ follower, she gets her self-esteem from being made in the image of God,” he said. “She was kind of leery if [she] had said anything about God [that she] was going to be in trouble.”
Fraiser sent a letter to the school indicating he believed his daughter had been told she couldn’t use “Biblical sayings” in her projects.
“Can you please explain if this is true? Perhaps, she misunderstood you?” the letter read in part. “Since I am certain you understand that this clearly infringes on my daughters/your students right to freedom of speech, I want to make sure we understand your instructions.”
Two days later Fraiser got a response from Assistant Principal Jenyan Martinez.
“When Mackenzie created the project with the expectation she would present the Biblical saying to the class, the matter became one of having a captive audience that would be subject to her religious beliefs,” Martinez wrote. “Had the assignment been designed to simply hand in for a grade, this would not have been an issue.”
Martinez backed the teacher’s decision, saying she had been justified given the public nature of the presentation.
Academica Nevada, the management company that oversees Somerset Academy, told the Review-Journal they are still investigating the matter.
“We consider the civil liberties of our students to be of utmost importance. As such, we strive to comply in every way with the directives set forth by the U.S. Department of Education with regard to religious expression in public schools,” read a statement, sent to the paper by a representative of the company.
In the meantime, Fraiser has teamed up with Jeremy Dys, an attorney with the Texas-based Liberty Institute, a religious rights law firm.
Dys told TheBlaze that the school misinterpreted the Department of Education directives and had violated the 12-year-old’s constitutional rights,
“When students go to school they do not lose their First Amendment rights,” he said. “It chilled her speech and, as such, what the school is teaching these kids right now is that it is wrong to reference their faith at school. If they don’t apologize for this mistake … then the lesson that these students will take away is that it is wrong to reference their faith in school.”
Dys said he sent a request Tuesday for an apology from the school and asked that Mackenzie be allowed to resubmit her project, unedited.
He said if the family doesn’t receive a response in 10 days they might seek legal remedies.