EVERETT, Wash. — A high school student in Washington has filed a legal challenge against school officials after he was repeatedly suspended this fall over his evangelistic activities on campus.
Michael Leal is a senior at Cascade High School in Everett, and has been suspended three times since September because of his efforts to share his Christian faith with his classmates. Leal distributes gospel literature to students and also preached in the open air during a recent school event. According to the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), which is representing the teen in court, Leal faces expulsion if he continues his activities, which the school has claimed is a “disruption” on campus.
According to the Post-Intelligencer and the complaint filed this week, the situation began in early September when Leal distributed copies of the booklet “How to Know God” during his lunch period. He was escorted to the principal’s office and told that his actions could be offensive.
Last month, Leal again handed out tracts during the school’s “bonfire bash” and decided to preach as well, speaking on God’s law and the gospel. But he was soon approached by Principal Cathy Woods, who asked him to stop. When he continued preaching, school officials called the police, who talked with Leal, but did not stop him from his activities. However, the following day, the student was suspended from school over the incident.
Days later, Leal attempted to hand out tracts at an after school volleyball game, but was again confronted. He was told that he needed Woods’ permission to distribute the materials, but was allegedly told by Woods that she would be “breaking the law” if she allowed him to continue.
The following day, Leal went back to handing out the pamphlets during his lunch period and the non-instructional time in class. He was suspended for the third time for the “distribution of religious material and failure to comply with school rules.”
In communicating with PJI, which Leal then contacted about the matter, Cascade High School attorney Michael Patterson asserted that the student wasn’t targeted because of his Christian speech, but rather because he was labeled a “disruption.”
“At no time was Mr. Leal told that his distribution of material or his statements were inappropriate at school because of their religious content,” he wrote. “Rather, he was informed of district policy … and told that he needed to comply with it. He was also informed that he could not create a substantial disruption at school or school events.”
But PJI says that at no time was Leal disruptive, and contends that the school policy, which “only allows student literature to be distributed at school entrances and exits, before and after school, and even then only if the literature is written by a student” is overly restrictive.
“Leal has not now, nor has he ever, used preaching or distribution of literature, to harass, intimidate, or bully any students, school employees, or others on campus,” the group stated.
It filed a legal challenge this week in an effort to regain the student’s rights to share his faith on campus.
“It is deeply troubling to see a school district dig in its heels on a policy that is so clearly unconstitutional,” PJI President Brad Dacus said in a statement on Wednesday. “We are eager to vindicate Mr. Leal’s rights and prevent him from being expelled for simply sharing his deeply-held beliefs. We need more high school seniors, not less, who have strong moral convictions and are concerned about their fellow students.”