– The Washington Times – Friday, June 3, 2016
A California elementary school has been accused of violating a 7-year-old boy’s First Amendment rights after school officials reportedly dispatched a sheriff’s deputy to the boy’s home to warn him against distributing Bible verses after school.
The Liberty Counsel, a Christian nonprofit litigation group, is threatening legal action against Desert Rose Elementary School in Palmdale for “an outrageous violation of a first grader’s constitutional rights,” according to a Thursday press release.
The group said the student, identified as “C,” would regularly read aloud the Bible verses that his mother, Christina Zavala, would pack away in his lunch. The verses became so popular that other students started asking the boy for their own verses. Ms. Zavala then started providing additional Bible verses for her son’s friends that included short stories for context.
“However, when one little girl said ‘teacher — this is the most beautiful story I’ve ever seen,’ ‘separation of church and state’ was the response, and the notes were banned from lunchtime distribution,” the Liberty Counsel said. “C was told that the school gate was the only location at which he could give the Bible verses to his friends, and only after the bell rang.”
The group said Ms. Zavala and her son complied with the order and started handing out the verses after school at the gate in late April. The activity became increasingly popular, with at least 15 students showing up every day. On May 9, Principal Melanie Pagliaro reportedly approached C’s father, Jaime Zavala, and demanded he and the boy move completely off school property and onto the public sidewalk. The family immediately complied, the Liberty Counsel said.
Later that day, a Los Angeles Deputy Sheriff reportedly arrived at the Zavalas’ home to tell the boy to stop sharing the notes, because “someone might be offended,” the Liberty Counsel said. It was then that the family decided to seek legal help.
“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,” Horatio Mihet, senior litigation counsel with Liberty Counsel, said in a statement.
“This is a clear, gross violation of the rights of a child,” the group said. “That the school district enlisted a police officer to intimidate C and his family makes this case even more outrageous.”
In a letter to the Palmdale School District, the Liberty Counsel said, “having reviewed the above facts, district policies, and applicable law, it is clear that the actions of the district staff in this instance, in prohibiting voluntary student religious expression during non-instructional time; then completely banning such student expression from school property entirely, and finally calling the police to report the same are simply unconstitutional.”
It gave the district a deadline for responding of June 1, which was ignored, WND reported.
The district declined to respond to a WND request for comment.
A media spokesman for the sheriff’s office told WND that he knew nothing about the deputy visiting the 7-year-old’s home at the request of school officials.
In a June 11 statement, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department confirmed that a deputy was sent to the boy’s home to investigate the dissemination of literature on school grounds.
“On May 9, 2016, a school resource deputy from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department made contact with the parents of a student regarding the dissemination of literature on school grounds,” the statement read. “Upon making contact with the student’s parents, and learning more about what had occurred, the deputy reaffirmed the student’s rights and provided the parents information on the school’s policy for distribution of materials. We thank our community and school partners, including the faith community for their support of our deputy’s professional and compassionate demeanor while interacting with the student and his family.
“Oftentimes, school resource deputies make home visits to fulfill the Sheriff’s Department’s mission of enforcing the law fairly and defending the rights of all by partnering with the people we serve to promote safety in our communities.”
Photo by: David Goldman ‘In this Sunday April 10, 2016 photo, a parishioner reads the bible before a service at the Christian Fellowship Church in Benton, Ky. (AP Photo/David Goldman)’