FLORENCE - A lawsuit filed in US District Court Tuesday claims religion is being endorsed and promoted at the public Florence High School.
The plaintiff is Robert Basevitz, a Jewish teacher who used to work at the high school. He's suing the Fremont RE-2 School District, Superintendent Rhonda Vendetti, and Principal Brian Schipper for allegedly violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
At issue are the regular Christian events hosted at the school by the Cowboy Church at the Crossroads. Basevitz's attorney claims there have been up to five Christian events on campus in a single day. Events include morning prayer around the flagpole before school every morning and church service in the school cafeteria every Sunday. Basevitz says the prayer groups are sometimes so large that they block access to the school's front doors.
"Students are allowed to pray silently before an exam, [but] what schools can't do is sponsor religion. School faculty cannot promote religion and send a message to the students and other members of the faculty that a certain religion is favored over the others," Paul Maxon, an attorney representing Basevitz, said.
The lawsuit claims the district and school officials participate in prayer and events hosted by the church. It includes photos of banners promoting the church hanging on school grounds. It says school administration supports the distribution of flyers throughout campus and in teacher mailboxes that reflect the church's views.
"The school principal is involved in school gatherings where Bibles are passed out to students," Maxon said. "The school principal is listed as a contact person for school prayer meetings."
The church's pastor, Randy Pfaff, says there is nothing wrong with what he's been doing at the school. What started as morning prayer and Wednesday "Jesus Pizza" talks has exploded into one of the largest clubs on campus. And while the plaintiff contests that this is not just a club, the pastor says it's exactly that.
"I am not going to make apologies for being in a Christian nation and trying to be an instrument that God's using at the school in a non-intrusive and voluntary way," Pfaff said.
He says all participation in the events he has is voluntary. Basevitz complained to the administration about the size and scope of the events that sometimes block the front doors of the high school. The suit says shortly after Basevitz was transferred to another school without explanation.
"When the school PA system is being used to promote these religious activities, when the principal is involved in passing out Bibles to students, when the principal is listed as a contact person for a prayer event, that sends a message to members of faculty [and] the students, that religious activities are part of the school's activities," said Maxon.
But Pfaff, who says the school asked him to stop showing up to the clubs events on campus for the time-being, feels the club he helped start is being discriminated against.
"The fellowship of Christian huskies, use the PA over the high school no different from any other club. Science club, drama club, chess club, athletic booster club, they are all announced right along with Fellowship of Christian Huskies," he said.
School district officials declined to comment on the lawsuit.
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