PALMDALE, Calif. – A seven-year-old first grader was recently reprimanded in front of his entire class and a police officer was dispatched to his family’s home because the child had brought notes with Bible verses on them to school.
Christina and Jaime Zavala live in Palmdale, California. In January, they enrolled their son in the first grade at Desert Rose Elementary School in the Palmdale School District, according to a recent letter from the nonprofit group Liberty Counsel. To encourage her son at school, Christina gave him brief notes to read during lunchtime. Each note included a Bible verse for him to read.
The Zavalas’ son, identified as “C” in the Liberty Counsel’s letter, began telling his classmates about his mother’s encouraging notes and began reading the Bible verses to them. Each day, several students would gather around C to hear the lunchtime notes and Bible verses written by Christina.
“After this had occurred for some time, one friend asked for a copy of the Bible verse, that he, too, could have,” the Liberty Counsel letter explains. “C relayed the request to his mother, who began to send a Bible verse for C, and one for his friend. Soon, five more students asked C for a Bible verse, and C brought additional copies for them, as well. The notes grew to include a short story providing context for the Bible verse, which C would read to the children.”
However, in April, C’s first grade teacher learned of Christina’s note-writing when a girl in her class came up to her one day and said, “Teacher, this is the most beautiful story I have ever seen—C gave it to me.” When the teacher saw that the “beautiful story” on the note was from the Bible, she told C in front of the other students that he was not allowed to share the Bible stories at school but would instead have to stand outside the school gate after the bell rang.
The teacher also called C’s mother to explain the situation.
“Please tell your son that there is a separation of church and state,” the teacher reportedly told Christina.
Christina responded by writing a letter to C’s teacher, explaining that C was only sharing the notes with children who asked to read them, that he was not interrupting class time, and that none of this was prohibited by the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause.
“However,” the Liberty Counsel reports, “despite the accurate information about student religious rights which Christina shared with her, when the students were lined up in the classroom the next day, in front of C and the whole class, C’s teacher again told C that he was not allowed to share the notes at school.”
So, in compliance with the teacher’s request, Christina (or, on same days, Jaime) and C began to share the Bible verses with C’s friends after school outside the school gate. This continued until May 9, when the school principal came up and informed them that their actions were “against school policy.” Later that day, a Los Angeles deputy sheriff knocked on the Zavalas’ door, saying he had been sent by the school. He reiterated that the note distribution was not permitted because “someone might be offended.”
In a press release issued on Thursday, Liberty Counsel described the school’s treatment of C and his family as “a clear, gross violation of the rights of a child.”
“I would expect something like this to happen in Communist Romania, where I went to elementary school, but cops don’t bully 7-year-olds who want to talk about Jesus in the Land of the Free,” opined Horatio “Harry” Mihet, Liberty Counsel’s Vice President of Legal Affairs and Chief Litigation Counsel.
“It was outrageous and should shock the conscious of every freedom-loving American,” Mihet said, according to a Fox News report. “Apparently all the real criminals have been dealt with in Palmdale and now they’re going after kids who share Bible verses during lunch time.”
“If students are permitted to pass out Valentine or birthday cards at school or to talk about Superman and Captain America at lunch, they cannot be prohibited from sharing Bible verses and discussing their faith during their free, non-instructional time,” he added.
Liberty Counsel is representing Jaime, Christina, and C in this case and is urging the Palmdale School District to respect the family’s Constitutional rights.
“The District has a duty to correct the record, not only to C, but to these other future citizens,” the Liberty Counsel’s letter states. “If we do not receive this response, we will take further action to prevent irreparable harm to the cherished First Amendment liberties of our clients.”
In a Facebook post on Friday, Christina provided her perspective on the situation.
“We are learning firsthand about our ‘rights’ as Americans and learning to walk in the grace and truth God has given us through Jesus,” she said, saying their family would continue to be “bold in love and truth.”
“God is awesome we give Him ALL the glory!” she wrote.