Court Rules School Officials’ Promotion of Supply Drive, Fundraiser for Student Mission Trip Violated Constitution

DENVER, Co. — A federal judge has ruled that public school officials’ promotion of a supply drive and fundraiser for student members of a Colorado branch of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes violated the U.S. Constitution by giving the impression that “the government endorsed the Christian religion and the proselytizing of such on a Spring Break mission trip.”

“The court finds that defendants’ actions amounted to ‘an excessive government entanglement with religion,'” wrote Judge R. Brooke Jackson, appointed to the bench by then-President Barack Obama.

“Defendants supported an overtly Christian cause through financial donations, through sending emails and flyers to students’ families, and through hosting the supply drive during school hours over the course of a school week. Indeed, the district itself described its relationship with the FCA and the supply drive as a ‘partnership.’ These actions and words had ‘the effect of advancing … religion,” he opined.

The matter began in 2014 when students at Highlands Ranch High School near Denver—specifically, those who are members of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes—decided to take a mission trip to Guatemala.

A teacher at a local elementary school in the district, Cougar Run Elementary School, offered to help the students by conducting a supply drive and sending flyers home with the children. Principal John Gutierrez likewise backed the effort, and also sent out emails encouraging others to donate financially.

However, the mother of a child who attends Cougar Run Elementary School was displeased when her son not only came home with a flyer, but his preschool teacher also sent an email encouraging participation in the supply drive.

The mother, whose name has not been provided, soon took the matter to court with the aid of the American Humanist Association (AHA). She asserted that her son “felt coerced into participating and contributing to this religious fundraiser,” and that “[a]s non-Christians, the school’s actions in promoting and endorsing a Christian organization … made us feel like outsiders and unwelcome in our own community.”

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The mother said that her son’s classmates treated him unkindly for not participating in the supply drive.

The school district argued that participation was not mandatory, and that students were free to decline to be involved if they were not interested.

On July 17, Judge Jackson ruled that while he did not believe that the “primary purpose of defendants’ involvement was to promote Christianity,” the actions of those promoting the supply drive/fundraiser for the mission trip still had the effect of endorsing the Christian religion. He noted that strings and beads that were donated for the trip were reportedly used to make “salvation bracelets” that shared the message of the gospel with Guatemalans.

“Even giving the district the benefit of the doubt concerning whether promotion of Christianity was the district’s primary actual purpose, ‘the practice under review in fact convey[ed] a message of endorsement’ of Christianity,” he wrote. “The effect of defendants’ actions was to communicate to a reasonable observer that the government endorsed the Christian religion and the proselytizing of such on a Spring Break mission trip.”

Jackson concluded that the school district violated the “constitutional rights of [the mother] and her son guaranteed by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution,” and directed the two parties to seek an agreement on payment of costs and attorney’s fees.

Read the ruling in full here.

AHA cheered the outcome, writing in a press release, “Religious minorities in public schools should never be faced with school-sponsored activity that promotes the majority religion. The court’s ruling correctly finds that the district’s activities had the effect of promoting religion and excessively entangled the government with religion.”

However, as previously reported, while some state that God and government must remain separated, others note that the nation was founded by those who believed that America could not expect to be blessed if it failed to acknowledge and honor Almighty God.

Rush

Dr. Benjamin Rush was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and vice-president of the Bible Society of Philadelphia. In 1806, he said, “The only means of establishing and perpetuating our republican forms of government is the universal education of our youth in the principles of Christianity by means of the Bible.”

He also wrote in a letter to John Adams in 1807, “By renouncing the Bible, philosophers swing from their moorings upon all moral subjects. Our Saviour in speaking of it calls it ‘Truth,’ in the abstract. It is the only correct map of the human heart that ever has been published. It contains a faithful representation of all its follies, vices & crimes. All systems of religion, morals, and government not founded upon it, must perish, and how consoling the thought!—It will not only survive the wreck of those systems, but the world itself. ‘The gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.’” (Read here from the National Archives.)

Joseph Coerten Hornblower, a member of the Continental Congress and chief justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, was co-founder of the American Bible Society—an organization that provided Bibles to both the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Jay, who later became president of Hornblower’s American Bible Society, also once said in 1816 in a letter to John Murray, “Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”


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