So far in her freshman year at Denver University, Cidney Fisk, the “A” student who was slapped with a slew of Fs by her Delta High School student government teacher after she publicly criticized the school district for its illegal Christian proselytizing and disproportionate funding of athletics over academics, has met former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and is a featured speaker at California Freethought Day in Sacramento, today, October 16, 2016. Albright was the first woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State. Freethought Day organizers are footing the bill to bring Cidney to Sacramento for the event, and are paying her an honorarium for speaking. The theme of this year’s Freethought Day is #SecularPride.
Colorado’s Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, Darryl Glenn, addressed a group of people in Jefferson County in 2015, telling them that pregnancy resulting from a rape is a “gift from God.”
Glenn is running against Democrat incumbent Michael Bennet.
Paradise Hills residents have been contacting Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers expressing their irritation and asking if it is legal for the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, which dominates their neighborhood, to display political signs opposing Proposition 106, the “Colorado End of Life Options Act,” on their lawns along the streets on two sides of their property.
Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers (WCAF) today awarded Cidney Fisk, the former Delta High School student who drew the public’s attention to the rampant Christian proselytizing in Delta County Schools, a $4,325 scholarship towards her college education.
Fisk, an A+ student and captain of Delta High School’s Speech and Debate Team, contacted WCAF for help last spring with the in-school proselytizing in the Delta County public school district. Cidney knew the proselytizing was illegal and told WCAF that the school had hired Shelly Donahue, a Christian missionary, to give abstinence-only-before-marriage “sex ed” talks to high school students. Donahue’s talks were based on religious ideology, all of the slides in her talks contained religious crosses, and the talks did not contain any of the information the state requires be included in a sex ed curriculum, like information on contraceptives, STDs or HIV. Cidney also highlighted other problems with separation of church and state occurring in the Delta County School District, like youth pastors roaming campus and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting during class time.
The Daily Sentinel featured Cidney on the front page of the paper in an April 1, 2016 expose’ about the Delta County School District. Cidney endured threats and harassment as a result, and not just from her fellow students. Her high school counselor said she would “hate to see” Cidney’s chances to get scholarships harmed if Cidney kept criticizing the school, and her student government teacher gave her Fs on her projects immediately after the Sentinel article appeared. When Cidney asked her teacher why she had gotten the Fs, he told her her grades would go back up when she stopped criticizing the school. The Fs threatened her ability to get grants and scholarships to attend college. WCAF set up a scholarship fund to help Cidney, and the donations toward her scholarship poured in from all across the United States and four foreign countries, after a local blog about her predicament went viral.
Cidney will attend Denver University in September. This scholarship made it unnecessary for her to take out any loans for her first year at the school.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has sent a letter (pdf) to the Delta County School District’s attorney warning that Shelly Donahue’s “sex ed” talks in schools there violate laws that prohibit religious proselytizing in public schools and require specific information be included in public schools’ comprehensive sex education courses.
Andrew Seidel, staff attorney with FFRF in Madison, Wisconsin, wrote to Aaron Clay, legal counsel for the Delta County School District 50J in the two-page letter that:
“Shelly Donahue’s biography on her website prominently includes her personal ‘salvation’ story and how she came to accept Jesus and the Holy Spirit into her life. While discussing her relationship with her ex-husband, Ms Donahue writes that ‘I believe that because Dave and I didn’t begin our relationship with a foundation of Biblical purity, we never connected heart-to-heart.’ That belief, and her subsequent desire to ‘fill that hole in [her] heart,’ led Ms. Donahue to develop her abstinence-only program. She also claims that a preacher and divine intervention healed her brain tumors. Finally, she proclaims, ‘I am passionately committed to Jesus Christ as the ultimate answer to ALL things, including teen sex.’ Her sex education program relies on her religiosity, not science, medical training, or specialized knowledge of the subject. Her website includes several videos of her TALL Truth presentations, which feature emphatic references to her religious views, but no discussion of STIs or contraceptives, which are essential, and state-mandated, elements of sex education.”
Seidel points out how easy it is to discern Donahue’s religious agenda from her website, and says that it is “well settled that schools may not advance or promote religion.” He cites several nationally significant legal cases in which rulings have reinforced this legal point.
Seidel wrote that,
“…In this case, it would have taken only a cursory glance at Ms. Donahue’s website to verify her religious agenda. Merely skimming her ‘About’ page reveals her inappropriateness as a speaker on sex education. It is difficult for us to understand how this event could have been approved. Your community undoubtedly possesses many secular experts who have experience, training, certification and/or degrees and would be delighted, usually at no cost to the district, to discuss the topic of sex education before your student body, and whose presence would not raise constitutional red flags.”
This 30 minute interview on KVNF Radio with Cidney Fisk and her parents about their experience with the Delta County School District was broadcast July 19, 2016. Host Ali Lightfoot interviews Cidney, her parents and Delta County School District officials about the religious speakers the school routinely brings in, other incidents of proselytizing occurring within the district, and the retribution Cidney faced from her teachers and counselors after voicing her opinions about that and what Cidney perceived as the district’s misguided financial priorities: Click this link to listen to the interview.
On Monday, July 11, 2016, the Grand Junction, CO Daily Sentinel published a photo of G.J. Police Chief John Camper praying in his uniform, at a religious event in a public park.
The event was organized by Heather Benjamin, formerly a Public Information Officer at the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office. It took place after the shootings of multiple police officers in Dallas, Texas just days before. It was meant to honor the victims of that mass shooting and find ways “to better connect community with law enforcement.” But it inadvertently sent a message that the GJPD prefers to be better connected with religiously-observant members of the community, rather than non-religious members.
No matter how serious or well-meaning such an event may be, Chief Camper actively praying on work time, in his uniform, on taxpayer-funded public property amounted to a government endorsement of religion, and violated the separation of church and state.
Another doozy of a Republican candidate is running for local office, this time against Mesa County Commissioner District 1 incumbent John Justman.
It’s John Davis.
The local Republican Party just keeps them coming, don’t they?
The Delta County School Board is violating state and federal laws in order to keep students from getting medically-accurate sex education information, and it seems to be by design.
Last October, the school district hired controversial abstinence-only-before-marriage pontificator Shelly Donahue as a sex education speaker for students. According to students, this was the only “sex education” the Delta County School District provided them, and the school board and district administration apparently consider this an adequate sex education.
Far from it.
For those who aren’t familiar with Shelly Donahue, she is an evangelistic Christian abstinence-only speaker who rakes in government grant funds by giving “WAIT” (“Why Am I Tempted”) training in public schools. Donahue’s website says
“She is passionately committed to Jesus Christ as the ultimate answer to the teen sexual activity problem in America. As a motivational speaker and a leading sex education expert, she is making a significant impact for the Kingdom of God!”
In her talks, Donahue dishes out vast amounts of medically inaccurate information to kids and uses broad, simplistic analogies that convey stereotypical images of what boys’ and girls’ personalities are like. She includes liberal doses of religiously-based, guilt-and-shame to frighten students out of having sex before marriage.
News about the pending distribution of atheist and Satanic literature in Delta County schools April 1 is encouraging more students, parents and even teachers to come forward with information about what they say is a persistent pattern of state/church violations, religiously-based discrimination and even outright bigotry, harassment and demeaning of atheist and non-believing students occurring within the Delta County School system.
Parents from Delta County contacted Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers (WCAF) Tuesday morning (3/22/16) to alert the group to what they feel is pervasive Christian proselytizing occurring in Delta County Schools. They say they and their child have suffered to a great extent from the school district’s persistent embrace of religious promotion.
The Delta County School District (DCSD) has approved the distribution of atheistic, secular and Satanic literature to middle and high school students throughout Delta County on April 1, 2016, and will carry out the literature distribution on behalf of the groups who have applied to do it.
A locally-produced brochure about atheism called “It’s Okay to Not Believe in God” (pdf), the Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities and other literature critical of the Bible and Christianity will be distributed to Delta Middle School (DMS) students if the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) gets their way.
Three groups — the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers and the Satanic Temple — have all submitted literature to Delta public schools for approval for distribution in an effort to get Delta County Schools to stop distributing Gideon Bibles to students during class time.
Yet another incident of inappropriate proselytizing was reported in a District 51 school late last month. The parties spent the last few weeks working to resolve it. An update was just recently available. Following is a description of what happened.
On December 31, the father of a Lincoln Orchard Mesa (LOM) Elementary student contacted Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers (WCAF), a western slope group that advocates for separation of church and state, about an inappropriate incident of proselytizing involving his child that occurred at LOM on November 20. The student is 8 years old and in the 3rd grade.
According to the parent and child, here is what took place:
LOM students were taking their regularly-scheduled lunch break in their school’s lunchroom on Friday, November 20, 2016. The student at the center of the incident was sitting at a table chatting with friends in the lunchroom, as was usual for kids at lunch. During the conversation, the student shared with her friends that she did not believe in God. A friend who heard the comment immediately went to a nearby lunchroom assistant named Jody Payne and told her that her friend did not believe in God. Ms. Payne went over to the table and told the student, in front of her friends, that “God created everything” that she “needed to, and should believe in God.”
“As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. Luke 7:38.”
An attorney with the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a national organization that acts to protect the principal of separation of church and state, sent a letter (pdf) January 6, 2016 to Delta County School Superintendent Caryn Gibson and Delta County School Board President Pete Blair warning of the potential legal consequences of continuing to ignore the ongoing proselytizing and harassment of students over religion in Delta County schools.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote that the on-campus Gideon Bible giveaway a student documented in Delta Middle School’s library during class hours on December 18, 2015 violates the U.S. Constitution. School Superintendent Caryn Gibson has tried to defend the giveaway by saying the district’s “open forum” policy for non-curricular literature distribution permits the bible giveaways.
But Seidel lists three reasons why the District’s policy doesn’t provide legal cover for the bible distribution.
In-School Proselytizing is Not Permissible
“First,” Seidel writes, “[I]t is unconstitutional for public school districts to permit the Gideons International to distribute bibles as part of the public school day. Courts have held that the distribution of bibles to students at public schools during instructional time is prohibited.” Seidel cites two significant U.S. court rulings that have upheld this principle.
“Second, even when distribution of religious materials is done passively — from a table of some other fixed location — courts have ruled that distribution may be unconstitutional,” he writes, citing 2009 8th Circuit Court case Roark v. South Iron R-1 School District.
“Third,” Seidel writes,
“…if Delta Schools maintains this passive distribution policy and continues to assert that it allows the Gideons to prey on other people’s children, we [will] formally request permission to distribute FFRF literature in March. We will also contact other potentially interested organizations, including the Satanic Temple, to alert them to this unique opportunity. We already have local volunteers willing to set up the distribution.” [Italicized emphasis appears in the original letter.]
Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers, a western slope secular advocacy and church-state watchdog group, is among those ready to distribute literature to Delta Middle School students. The group recently created a colorful, new age-appropriate brochure about atheism titled “Its Okay to Not Believe in God!” (pdf) which they are eager to deploy in schools with open forum policies, like Delta County’s.
FFRF Sued Over Same Issue in Florida, and Won
FFRF has confronted these kids of in-school bible giveaways and “open forum” policies before, and won.
On June 12, 2013, FFRF sued the Orange County, Florida school district over a very similar “open forum” policy the district cited in response to protests over an in-school bible giveaway similar to the one at Delta Middle School. When FFRF asked to distribute its own literature at the same school, and the Satanic Temple asked to distribute their childrens’ coloring book and fact sheets, the school district refused to distribute their literature. FFRF then sued the district. The Orange County school district spent two years and $86,000 trying to contest the lawsuit before finally giving up and voting in February, 2015 to ban distribution of religious materials of any kind in District schools — the very remedy FFRF had originally asked for.
Seidel lists other religious violations reported at Delta Middle School, including the school making all students watch a religious play about the baby Jesus (even students who protested it), and a teacher named Mrs. Charlesworth, who in December, 2014, reportedly told her students she was Christian and that “people who aren’t Christians are the bombers.” When a student protested the statement, Mrs. Charlesworth said she felt “it was her duty to teach the class about Christianity” and then harassed and ridiculed the student in front of the entire class. When the student’s parent contacted the school about the incident, the school “investigated” and concluded Mrs. Charlesworth didn’t do anything wrong, but immediately moved the student to a different class. The student reported that other teachers at the school have continued to harass her, including a drama teacher, Mr. Dunham, who according to Seidel’s letter “runs or ran the ‘Children’s Ministry’ at the Thunder Mountain Church of Christ in Delta.”
Two DMS teachers also reportedly lead students in prayer in one of the school’s classrooms every Wednesday morning, offering free doughnuts to lure kids to attend the sessions. Mr. Dunham is also one of the teachers who regularly leads the on-campus student prayer sessions.
Next Move is on Delta County School District
FFRF told Delta County School officials that if true, all of these allegations amount to constitutional violations, and asked for a prompt reply about how they intend to correct the violations and prevent them in the future. WCAF has also written to the district superintendent and the Delta County School Board notifying them of the problems with proselytizing, religious harassment and peer bullying occurring at DMS as a result of their apparent endorsement of Christianity on campus, and warning that these are violations of separation of church and state, but have only gotten a canned response from the superintendent saying district policy allows Gideon Bible giveaways.
After being informed that a Gideon Bible hand-out in Delta Middle School library during class time on December 18, 2015 violated U.S. laws guaranteeing separation of church and state, violated the School District’s policy governing the distribution of non-curricular literature in multiple ways and caused students who did not take bibles to be bullied and harassed, Delta County School District Superintendent Caryn Gibson responded by saying:
Thank you for your concern and email. Delta County School District honors the separation of Church and State. The Gideon Bibles were left on a table and optional for 6th grade students to take. No staff members distributed the non-curricular materials at anytime. Attached is the Delta County School District policy on non-curricular material.
Delta County Public Schools 50J
That was it.
No acknowledgement that the school district’s own policy was violated, no acknowledgement that constitutional law was violated.
Clear Violations of School Policy, No Acknowledgement by District
It is unconstitutional for public school districts to allow bibles to be distributed in classrooms during the school day. American courts have uniformly held that distributing bibles to students at public schools during instructional time is prohibited, and school officials like teachers and administrators cannot facilitate the bible handouts. At Delta Middle School, social studies teacher Michael Long took his class to the library during their regular class period, told the students there were bibles on a table by the library door, and they could take one if they wanted. The event gave the appearance that the school endorses Christianity above other religions.
Under the law, Gideons can only distribute religious literature off campus, on municipally-owned public sidewalks well off school grounds.
In addition, the DMS bible giveaway violated the District’s own literature distribution policy in not one, but in four different ways.
1. District policy states (pdf) that any “printed non-curricular material” cannot be distributed in “any classroom of any building when being occupied by a regularly-scheduled class.” The reporting student’s class was held in the school library on 12/18 so the class could do research. The library was the students’ classroom that day, during regularly-scheduled class time. Moreover, this wasn’t the only class held in the library that day, or the only class in which bibles were foisted upon the students.
2. District policy states “Distribution [of non-curricular materials, like bibles] may be made 1/2 hour before school and/or during regularly scheduled lunch periods…..Any other times during the school day are considered to be disruptive of normal school activities.” [Italicized emphasis added.] This student’s social studies class was held in the library at 9:40 a.m., as was previously pointed out to the superintendent, during normal school hours. More than one teacher brought their class to the library during school hours that same day.
3. Delta School District policy also states “Students may not be used as the agents for distribution of such materials without the written consent of the student’s parents.” Mr. Long’s social studies students became agents for the Gideons’ distribution when they started pressuring other students to take a bible. No written consent was solicited from the parents of these students regarding solicitation of bibles.
4. District Policy states “No student may in any way be compelled or coerced to accept any materials being distributed by any person distributing such materials or any school official.” Both Mr. Long and some of his social studies students pressured the reporting student to take a bible. Another element of the policy states teachers can not endorse the literature. Mr. Long endorsed the bible distribution when he told students “There’s bibles and they are free if you want one.”
How can the Delta School District ignore these violations of their own policy, and even more importantly, why are they failing to acknowledge and remedy them?
Update – 3/23/16 – The Delta County School District only finally acknowledged that the Gideon Bible giveaway in the Delta Middle School library violated of their own policy (pdf) after the school district’s attorney was contacted by a staff attorney from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) based in Madison, Wisconsin. When FFRF asked that the Gideons be banned from further literature distribution in accordance with school policy (which permits revoking literature distribution privileges for policy violators), the school district attorney, Aaron Clay, refused, blaming the violations of policy on school personnel rather than on the Gideons.
The parent of a Delta County, Colorado middle school student is reporting some of the most overt violations of separation of church and state yet discovered to be occurring in western slope public schools.
The parent’s child attends Delta Middle School (DMS) and reported to her mom on Friday, December 18, that her social studies class went to the school library with their teacher, Mr. Michael Long (email@example.com). Once in the library, Mr. Long “announced to the class that there were free bibles available” and students “could pick one up off of a table located in the doorway of the library and take it home.” A student who noted this was a violation of separation of church and state in a public school, took a photo of the bibles on the table and sent it via text to her mother, pointing out that the table was located where students had to walk around it to enter and exit the library.
The student who did not take a bible was confronted by her classmates about why she didn’t take one, and they started shaming her for not conforming to Christian beliefs.
After finding out bibles were being distributed during school time with the endorsement of a social studies teacher, an outraged parent contacted DMS Principal Jennifer Lohrberg (firstname.lastname@example.org) to protest the overt endorsement of Christianity on school property and during school hours. Principal Lohrberg insisted the bible giveaway was all in accordance with school policy, and sent the upset parent a copy of Delta County School District’s policy governing posting and distribution of non-curricular literature. (pdf)
DMS Violates Its Own Literature Distribution Policy, Multiple Times — And Denies It
One must only read the Delta County School District’s policy, though, to see DMS bible giveaway violated the District’s own literature distribution policy four different ways.