DENVER — A public school teacher in Colorado has filed a lawsuit against his school district over his assertion that the school “operates largely to promote the evangelical Christian ideals” of a local church.
Robert Basevitz, who identifies as Jewish, says that the Christian activities held at Florence High School made him feel excluded since he belongs to a different religion.
According to reports, for the past three years, “The Cowboy Church at Crossroads” has rented the cafeteria for Sunday services, held prayer every morning before school and hosted a voluntary Bible study and weekly “Jesus pizza” during the lunch period, among other events. It also distributed flyers and Bibles to students and erected a banner outside advertising its Sunday services.
When Basevitz complained to officials about the presence of the church at the school, he was allegedly transferred to another teaching job within the district, at which point he decided to file a lawsuit about the matter.
“Government and public schools need to remain neutral on questions of religion so that you and I are not forced to [be exposed to] someone else’s personal religious beliefs,” attorney Paul Mason told CBS Denver. “The church has been involved in the school for at least three years. The pastor states they haven’t missed a day of prayer at the school in the past three years.”
But Pastor Randy Pfaff told reporters that the events are all voluntary and that no one—including staff members—are required to participate. He said that he doesn’t believe that the Founding Fathers had the intention to keep religion of school.
“I don’t believe the Constitution was meant to keep God out of the schools. That’s absolutely absurd,” Pfaff told the Denver Post. “This nation was founded on Christianity.”
Superintendent Rhonda Roberts released a statement this week contending that Basevitz’ lawsuit contains inaccurate information, but didn’t elaborate on specifics.
“Our legal team has been working diligently to settle this matter informally, but regretfully, we were unable to do so,” she wrote.
“I also want to reassure our community that Florence High School has been, and continues to be, an educational institution that does not promote religion. The majority of the information in the complaint is inaccurate, or at best, taken out of context,” Roberts continued. “Additionally, it is important to understand that there has been no retaliation against Mr. Basevitz. All of the district’s staffing decisions are based on the needs of our students and consistent with the terms of our negotiated agreement.”
She said that the district does not sponsor the events and has balanced the “separation of church and state” with allowing voluntary religious youth activities on campus.
“Fremont RE-2 School District is in compliance with the guidance in law regarding the separation of church and state, Roberts wrote. “The district is committed to following the letter of the law, while still allowing students the right to have student led clubs that reflect their interests.”
The lawsuit asks that the district be stopped from “permitting, authorizing, encouraging, and acquiescing in the delivering of: i) sponsoring Christian prayer; ii) sponsoring and housing the Cowboy Church at Crossroads; iii) distributing bibles to students; iv) proselyting to and presenting scripture to students and staff; v) hosting school events at Christian locations; and vi) hosting evangelical Christian groups.”
Basevitz is also seeking compensatory and nominal damages in the matter.
Pfaff says that school officials contacted him in February and told him to stay out of the school.