In recent years, the Douglas County School District has stirred controversy over a perceived rightward shift led by its conservative school board. Now, the American Humanist Association is suing the district, the school board and other individuals for allowing what the AHA characterizes as religious fundraisers at individual institutions, thereby violating the separation between church and state. Photos, a video, the complete lawsuit and more below.
See also: Douglas County Republicans Ramp Up the Rhetoric in School Board Fight, published October 2009
According to the suit, the AHA is challenging the district's "policy, practice, and custom of advancing, endorsing, affiliating with, and sponsoring -- both symbolically and tangibly -- Christian organizations and their proselytizing and evangelical efforts. Defendants' affiliation with and sponsorship, promotion and endorsement of said Christian organizations and their religious efforts, violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, as applied to Colorado by the Fourteenth Amendment."
The first example offered by the plaintiffs is "Operation Christmas Child," an initiative sponsored by Samaritan's Purse, described as an "evangelical Christian organization;" its president is minister Franklin Graham, son of the Reverend Billy Graham. Samaritan's Purse slogan: "Helping in Jesus' Name."
Dougco's SkyView Academy participated in collecting goods for Operation Christmas Child, and the suit offers numerous memos by staffers coordinating the filling of boxes intended to go to the organization.
Also cited is what's labeled a "Christian mission trip" organized at Highlands Ranch High School. An excerpt from the suit notes that "in March 2014, Cougar Run and Highlands Ranch partnered with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes ("FCA") and "Adventures in Missions™: Christian Mission Trips"...to support the Highlands Ranch FCA Mission Trip to Guatemala.
"The primary purpose of the mission trip was to proselytize Christianity," the document continues.
Two Highlands Ranch teachers were among those who accompanied students on the trip.
In the view of the AHA, these activities and others constitute promotion of Christianity in violation of federal law. The demands include a judgement declaring that the projects "lack a secular purpose; have the effect of endorsing, favoring, and preferring religion over nonreligion...; result in excessive government entanglement with religion; and coerce students and parents to participate in religious activity in violation of the Establishment Clause."
The suit asks that such actions be prohibited in the future. Also requested: attorneys fees and "such other relief as this Court deems just and proper."
The DCSO gives no indication that it will buckle before such a challenge. A statement about the suit shared with CBS4 reads in part: "We applaud our students for being leaders and giving back to others, and will vigorously defend their right to continue to do so."
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Look below to see a CBS4 report on the subject, followed by the AHA suit.
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.