(Los Angeles, California)- A public school district will now allow an elementary student to share Bible verses with his classmates during “non-instructional time”, says Liberty Counsel whom represented the student and his family.
The incident occurred at Desert Rose Elementary School in Palmdale School District and gained attention after the sheriff’s department was called to reprimand the 7 year old student from handing out Bible verses to his classmates.
For the Zavala family, it was a normal routine. Mom Christina Zavala placed encouraging notes and Bible verses in her son’s lunch.
Liberty Counsel said the student shared the notes with other first grade students whom, in turn, requested notes of their own.
This prompted the boy’s mother to pack additional Bible verses for his friends, and short Bible stories so that he could share them.
Blessing Turns to Trouble
According to the Santa Monica Observer, after a student commented, “This is the most beautiful story I’ve ever seen”, the teacher quickly intervened in the situation. The boy was reprimanded for handing out the notes, and his parents were called to inform them that their actions were in violation of separation of church and state.
Furthermore, the Zavalas’ were informed that the notes were banned from lunch distribution. The boy could only pass them out after hours by the school gate.
According to Liberty Counsel, Christina wrote a letter to the teacher explaining her son was only sharing with other children who expressed interest in what she had written her son. She further stated that since it was not interrupting class time, and since it was not prohibited by the Establishment Clause, her son was not prohibited from discussing his religious beliefs.
However, the next day, after the notes were handed out again, the teacher reprimanded her son again stating that the notes could not be shared.
When the boy returned home from school, he informed his mother crying that he did not want his teacher to be angry with him. He said that he would no longer pass out the verses.
As such, his parents honored the request, but ended up being harassed after 15 students excitedly met the Zavalas family at the gate to receive the Bible verses.
The principal, Melanie Pagliaro, requested that the boy only distribute the notes on the public sidewalk far from the exit, and off of school property.
Again, the family complied with her request. Unfortunately, later that same day, a Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff was sent to the home by the school and demanded that the scripture sharing cease commenting that some may find it offensive.
The Final Result
The school’s comment that the activity was against policy was false since California Education Code 48907 states, “pupils of the public schools shall have the right to exercise freedom of speech, including but not limited to, distribution of printed material. Expression can only be prohibited that is obscene, libelous or slanderous, and constitute a clear and present danger of commission of unlawful acts.”
Liberty Counsel was contacted by the Zavala family to protect their child’s constitutional freedom. According to Liberty Counsel, the following solution was attained:
• The boy may freely discuss his religious beliefs on the Desert Rose campus during non-instructional time;
• The Zavalas may distribute written material to anyone on any designated public forum, including the sidewalk a few feet away from the Desert Rose School gate;
• Mr. and Mrs. Zavala may continue to send a daily note to their son in his lunchbox;
• He may freely read and discuss his daily note with his peers during non-instructional time;
• He may even verbally invite any of his peers to join him on the sidewalk after school for further discussion on the contents of the notes.
Founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, Mat Staver, said in a statement to Breaking Christian News, “We celebrate this victory that acknowledges that students have constitutional rights to free speech to distribute literature during non-instructional times. Now this young boy is free to share his Bible verses and stories with his classmates this year without hassle.”
Since the incident, Palmdale School District released the following statement on their website:
“The Palmdale School District acutely respects the religious rights of all students, parents, administrators and staff. This isolated incident seems to stem from a misunderstanding of existing rules and procedures designed to protect students, and not based on an effort to restrict religious liberties.
“We are eagerly expecting the results of an internal investigation. The investigation will determine whether and to what extent proper protocol was followed at Desert Rose Elementary School.
“We will next update this message as soon as we know more facts.”
Further information regarding the incident can be found here.Click here for reuse options!
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