APPLE VALLEY, Calif. — A school district in California has ruled that two teachers recently violated the rights of Christian students when they prohibited the children from distributing coins imprinted with Bible verses to their friends.
“We’re going to make sure that students are protected,” Apple Valley School District Superintendent Thomas Hoegerman told the San Bernardino Sun this week. “There was no malicious intent, but we clearly had folks who didn’t fully understand the implications.”
Allen and Kelly Peterson explained to reporters that they had purchased the plastic coins to use as witnessing tools in their community, and that four of their children wanted to take them to school to share with their friends.
The coins ask “Where will you spend eternity?” on one side, citing the words of Jesus from John 3:36, which reads, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life, and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.” The other side of the coin quotes John 3:16, which states, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
The children have been distributing the coins during the recess period for the past year, but in January and February, two teachers at Desert Knolls Elementary School, Ms. De Haro and Ms. Manker, put an end to it.
“‘I hate them and they’re a distraction to my class,” Ms. De Haro is quoted as stating to one of the children, according to Allen Peterson. “I don’t want to see them any more.”
Another of the Peterson children was informed that the coins were a violation of the law when she had discovered that he had placed them in holiday bags for his classmates.
When the Peterson’s were unable to make inroads with school officials, they contacted the Christian legal group Freedom X, based in Los Angeles, which then sent a letter to district officials to ask that the children’s rights be upheld.
“The peculiar impulse of educators to treat Christian children like pariahs is reflexively intolerant, yet the type of religious discrimination witnessed at Desert Knolls is regrettably becoming commonplace,” the letter stated. “De Haro and Manker’s actions were not just disapproving of Christianity, but hostile toward it and, therefore, unconstitutional. … It is abundantly clear that the school has violated Patrick’s and Steven’s free speech rights.”
Freedom X requested an apology and that the teachers be instructed on the rights of religious students.
The district then launched an investigation, and concluded this week in a 43-page report that the teachers had violated the rights of students, although without malice, as it refutes that De Haro stated that she “hated” the coins.
“Although no violation of the childrens’ rights was intended, a teacher was mistaken as to her obligations under the law,” the response from Superintendent Thomas Hoegerman stated. “For this regretful misunderstanding, I can assure the Petersons that corrective actions are already underway. The district will use the findings as a learning opportunity to teach staff about the rights and obligations of students at school and to provide guidance as to how to support student rights to freedom of expression at school, including religion expression.”
The Petersons told reporters that they are pleased with the outcome and simply wanted their childrens’ rights to be upheld.
“They have friends of theirs who don’t know Jesus—don’t know God, and if they can give out these coins, they might be able to help them,” Allen Peterson stated.