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Public Schools Facing Threats of Lawsuits for Stifling Religious Expression

By Jim Brown

AgapePress (12/28/05)

A pro-family legal group is warning elementary schools in New Jersey and Colorado that their censorship of Christmas may warrant federal lawsuits.

The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) is considering whether to sue on behalf of a parent whose daughter attends Canfield Avenue School in Mine Hill Township (NJ). The parent claims his daughter was told the words “Merry Christmas” could not be written in the classroom, and that she could only speak those words in Spanish. ADF attorney Mike Johnson also notes that in the school’s concert this year — titled “The Xmas Files” — the words to the carol “Silent Night” were changed from “Silent Night, Holy Night” to “Silent Night, Winter Night.”

“What we have here is just another example of viewpoint discrimination,” Johnson asserts. “Rather than seeing a tolerance for people of all faiths, what we see more and more sadly is really an outright hostility towards persons of the Christian faith.”

The attorney explains that ADF monitors numerous similar cases but only has to litigate a “smaller percentage” because, as he explains, “most are resolved when we send information or a demand letter explaining what the law really says.” Still, ADF is “willing and able” to litigate such cases, he adds — “and we win at least three of four of those cases when we do take them to court.”

ADF has sent a letter to the Canfield Avenue School principal, president of the board of education, and six board members, urging them to end their censorship of religious speech. It has made similar requests of another public school — this one in Colorado — which may also be facing a federal lawsuit for the same reason.

Heritage Elementary School in Greenwood Village recently prohibited a student from bringing a Nativity scene to school and from sharing the Christmas story with his classmates. The school also banned candy canes bearing a story about their religious symbolism and outlawed cookies in the shape of traditional Christmas symbols.

Johnson explains that, like the case in New Jersey , ADF has sent a letter to the school demanding the censorship be stopped. He says the case is the latest example of political correctness run amok in public schools.

“We pointed out [in the letter] that the Supreme Court has never ruled that public schools have to ban the singing of religious Christmas carols or prohibit the distribution of candy canes or Christmas cards or symbols,” Johnson says. “These are all very lawful observances of a national holiday that, by the way, 96 percent of Americans celebrate. So there’s no legal basis for this type of injunction.”

According to Johnson, the student’s mother, Ramina Terraz, grew up in Iran and has compelling story.

“Her dad was actually a Christian minister there, and before he was able to flee and come to this country, four of his associate ministers were killed; they were martyred for the faith,” the attorney shares. “And she told me, almost tearfully, that in this country she expected that religious freedom would be protected, unlike [in] her home country.”

In summary, Johnson says “here is a citizen who is in the process of being naturalized who in some ways has a greater appreciation and concern for religious freedom than many of us. It’s a right that we sometimes take for granted.”

Johnson say ADF will continue to monitor Heritage Elementary and may file suit if the school does not end its censorship of religious expression when class resumes next month.