COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Attorneys representing a Christian teenager in Colorado have filed a legal challenge on behalf of the student after he and other students were prohibited from meeting to sing, pray and discuss religious topics during their free period.
Pine Creek High School Senior Chase Windebank had been leading the group for the past three years during what is called the “seminar” period at the school. According to reports, on Mondays and Wednesdays, students are allowed to leave the class after the first fifteen minutes of the period, and students with a passing grade may also do so on Fridays.
“During the free time, students are permitted to engage in a virtually unlimited variety of activities, including gathering with other students inside or outside; reading; sending text messages to their friends; playing games on their phone; visiting the bathrooms; getting a snack; visiting teachers; and conducting official meetings of school clubs,” states Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the Christian legal organization representing Windebank outlines.
For the past three years, Windebank has been granted permission from the choir teacher to use the choir room when he leaves the “seminar” morning period. Windebank and other students use the room to sing Christian songs together, pray and discuss matters of faith.
But in late September, Pine Creek Assistant Principal Jim Lucas contacted Windebank and advised that he must discontinue the practice due to the “separation of church and state.” ADF then sent a letter to the school and district about the matter, and received a response from district attorney Patricia Richardson, who asserted that the period was rather not a free period but considered instructional time.
“Seminar at Pine Creek is not homeroom time. It is class time and it is considered instructional time,” she said. “No non-curricular clubs are permitted to meet during that time period.”
Richardson further stated that Windebank and the other students would have to hold their meetings either before or after school.
District spokesperson Nanette Andrerson likewise told The Gazette that students are only allowed to leave the classroom to “participate in curriculum-related activities, such as studying in the library or with study groups, seeking individual assistance from staff members or meeting with curriculum-related clubs.”
However, when Windebank complied and moved the meeting times, he found that attendance to the gathering dwindled from 90 students down to sometimes only 12 as students had prior commitments.
Therefore, as officials have been unwilling to budge on the matter, ADF filed a federal legal challenge over the matter on Friday, seeking a permanent injunction against the actions of the school and district.
“Public schools should encourage the free exchange of ideas. Instead, this school implemented an ill-conceived ban that singles out religious speech for censorship during free time,” remarked ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco in a press release announcing the suit.
“Far from being unconstitutional, religious speech is expressly protected by the First Amendment, and public schools have no business stopping students from praying together during their free time,” added ADF Legal Counsel Matt Sharp.