By Elaine Magliaro
Robert Basevitz, a high school teacher in Colorado, claims that administrators employed by the Fremont RE-2 School District are running one of their public schools as a religious school. Paul Maxon, Basevitz’s attorney, has filed a lawsuit against the school district for religious discrimination. In addition to the school district, the lawsuit also “names as defendants, Superintendent Rhonda Vendetti and Florence High School Principal Brian Schipper, both as individuals and district administrators.”
Maxon told KMGH that his client “was Jewish and felt that the Fremont RE-2 School District, Superintendent Rhonda Vendetti and Florence High School Principal Brian Schipper had discriminated against him by conspiring to promote Christianity above all other beliefs.”
According to the ABC news station in Denver (7NEWS/KMGH), some of the religion-related things that the school has done include the following: projecting religious scripture onto screens at the high school, putting up signs promoting Sunday church services, and holding prayer circles around the flag pole.
Maxon said, “On a single day last year, there were no fewer than five Evangelical activities sponsored by the school.” Maxon said that the administration was “essentially running a public school as a Christian school.”
When asked by 7NEWS reporter Russell Haythorn if he thought Florence High School was acting more like a religious institution, Maxon replied, “I think it is — when the principal is participating in assemblies that pass out bibles to students, it sends a message to the faculty and to the students that there’s an official religion at the school.”
7NEWS said that Principal Schipper disagreed. He said, “We’re a school. We educate kids…We educate kids in every academic area and social area and life area. Religion’s not in our curriculum anywhere.”
According to 7NEWS, Maxon alleges in the lawsuit that the high school holds regular Christian meetings during lunch inside the building, “which students have nicknamed ‘Jesus Pizza.’” Maxon said, “The fact that there’s a humorous nickname doesn’t mean it’s not serious.” He added, “It’s a serious matter when the Bill of Rights is violated. Some cases have gray areas about what’s illegal and not illegal. This case doesn’t have much of that.”
Cowboy Church at Crossroads has held Sunday church services in the school cafeteria since at least 2012, the church website says. The principal defends this practice, noting that the church pays rent to the school district.
According the lawsuit, Cowboy Church’s pastor, Randy Pfaff, has the run of the school, using the public address system to “preach his evangelical Christian messages.”
“With the support of the school’s staff, including Principal Schipper, Pastor Pfaff and the Church distribute” flyers throughout the school that promote prayer meetings and other Christian events during school hours, the lawsuit states.
According to the lawsuit, Pastor Pfaff says the “mission work” of the church is The Fellowship of Christian Huskies, a Florence High student group he founded in 2011. The Fellowship describes itself as a “religious organization” that aims to “let God back in our schools” and to “[bring] others to a saving knowledge of Jesus.”
According to The Denver Post, Pfaff said he will not apologize for being in Florence High 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 during a telephone interview. He added, “This nation was founded on Christianity.”
After Basevitz complained to school administrators, he said that he was told to use the side doors because the prayer circle students regularly held in front of the school was so large that it blocked the main entrance.
“In an apparent attempt to ostracize [Basevitz], Defendants informed staff and students of Mr. Basevitz’s complaint and his Jewish heritage,” the lawsuit notes. “On January 9, 2015, [Basevitz] overheard a student saying, “we can’t do Jesus Pizza because Mr. B. is Jewish.”
Instead of addressing Basevitz’s concerns, Maxon said that the high school teacher “was shown the door, and transferred to a different school.”
Principal Schipper insisted to KMGH that the Christian events taking place during school hours were not causing religious discrimination. He reportedly claimed that all beliefs were welcome at his school. “We’re preparing kids to be good, productive people when they walk out of here. We do great things every day,” he said.
Pastor Pfaff claimed that all religious activities are voluntary and that no students or staff members are forced to participate in them. Maxon argued, however, that “school officials cross the line to endorsing religion when they make announcements over the school intercom system and distribute literature that includes Scripture and Bibles.”
The Denver Post:
The lawsuit requests the school and officials stop religious activities, including sponsoring Christian prayer; sponsoring and housing The Cowboy Church at Crossroads; distributing Bibles to students; presenting Scripture to students and staff; hosting school events at Christian locations; and hosting evangelical Christian groups.
Colorado school booted teacher for opposing ‘Jesus pizza’ Bible studies during lunch: lawsuit (Raw Story)
Teacher’s lawsuit says public Florence High School is promoting Christianity to students (7NEWS/KMGH)
Lawsuit claims illegal religious activities at Florence High School (The Denver Post)
Well . . . this won’t pass the Lemon test for sure.
Interesting catch, Elaine.
Thanks for staying on top of this crap. Unfortunately, there is plenty more where that came from. Have you read about the One Man One Vote attack? Serious stuff with terrible consequences if this guy wins this texas redistricting case.
I read about it yesterday. It’s not easy keeping up with all of the crap, is it?
Religion seems to warp some minds. Scary when those minds are in charge of educating young people. Too bad these administrators didn’t pay attention in civics class, if they ever attended one.
Did you read about this court case?
The Supreme Court will review a case of blatant racism by prosecutors. For once, there’s a paper trail.
By Mark Joseph Stern
The prosecutors seeking to send Timothy Tyrone Foster to death row went about their job in a curious manner. During jury selection, they highlighted each black prospective juror’s name in green—on four different copies of the jury list—and wrote that the green highlighting “represents blacks.” On each black juror’s questionnaire, prosecutors circled the response “black” next to a question about race. They also referred to three black jurors as “B#1,” “B#2,” and “B#3” in their notes. Finally, the prosecution’s investigator ranked each black juror against the others—in case “it comes down to having to pick one of the black jurors.”
What’s With Josh Duggar?
The Supreme Court and the Meaning of ‘One Person One Vote’: In which we see the Supreme Court begin to close the circle.
By Charles Pierce
The modern Republican party, and the conservative movement that gives the party its only real energy, never has been down with this whole right-to-vote business—except, of course, as an equal-protection dodge in Bush v. Gore. The current Chief Justice, John Roberts, kick-started his rise in conservative politics by working to undermine the Voting Rights Act as a lawyer in Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department.
(Roberts’s immediate predecessor, William Rehnquist, got his start as a voter-intimidation specialist in Arizona. As a clerk, Rehnquist argued against the majority in Brown v. Board of Education, writing in one memo: “I realize that it is an unpopular and unhumanitarian position, for which I have been excoriated by “liberal” colleagues, but I think Plessy v. Ferguson was right and should be reaffirmed. To the argument that a majority may not deprive a minority of its constitutional right, the answer must be made that while this is sound in theory, in the long run it is the majority who will determine what the constitutional rights of the minority are.” Oy.)
You really have to admire how they’ve done it. First, they turn our elections into a plutocrat’s playground (Citizens United, McCutcheon). Then they uphold in the main voter-suppression tactics designed by the candidates the newly corrupt system produces out in the states (Crawford). Then, they gut any remedy that the people against whom these new laws discriminate have in federal court (Shelby County.)…
Back when Roberts was a rising young lawyer, the Republican party didn’t have a problem with what “one man, one vote” meant. Then, the country started to brown up a little bit and the Republican party found itself trapped within the strategy whereby it had allied itself with the remnants of American apartheid. It couldn’t appeal to this changing demographic because its base would go indiscriminately bananas. So, instead, it committed itself to a long campaign to dilute the power of the new voters to whom it could not fundamentally appeal. And it’s now damned close to enshrining in law the principle that any electoral disadvantage—self-inflicted or not—that conservatives face is prima facie unconstitutional. It really is quite something.
Looks like Pastor Pfaff has found a captive audience upon which he can increase the numbers of his congregation and thus his own pay check. I wonder if he shares his increased proceeds with Principal Schipper other than the rent money. At their core, evangelical pastors are all about the buck.
Not quite Pete! 🙂
Concerned about what’s happening to good teachers? Check this out. Teacher responded to student.
Thanks for that link!
Elaine, You’re welcome.