No Jesus Discussion Allowed In Temecula First-Grade Classroom, Attorney Claims

The Temecula Valley Unified School District is facing a possible religious discrimination lawsuit over the incident.

Temecula first-grader Brynn Williams is pictured with a Star of Bethlehem from atop her family's Christmas tree. She brought the star to school as part of an assignment to share a family Christmas tradition, attorneys say. (Courtesy photo)
Temecula first-grader Brynn Williams is pictured with a Star of Bethlehem from atop her family's Christmas tree. She brought the star to school as part of an assignment to share a family Christmas tradition, attorneys say. (Courtesy photo)

Legal action alleging religious discrimination may potentially be brought against the Temecula Valley Unified School District following an incident in which a teacher purportedly stopped a first-grader from finishing a presentation about the Star of Bethlehem and what it meant to her family at Christmas-time.

Advocates for Faith & Freedom, a Murrieta-based nonprofit legal firm whose stated mission is to “protect religious liberty in the courts,” sent a seven-page demand letter Monday to TVUSD’s superintendent and board president regarding the Dec. 18, 2013 incident at Helen Hunt Jackson Elementary School.

According to the letter, the student, Brynn Williams, brought the Star of Bethlehem to school as part of an assignment to find something at home that represents a family Christmas tradition, put it in a canvas bag provided by the teacher, bring it to school, and be prepared to share the family tradition.

The letter alleged that as Brynn was in the midst of giving her one-minute presentation, the teacher said: “Stop right there! Go take your seat!”

Brynn was allegedly not allowed to finish her presentation by reciting the Bible verse, John 3:16 and the only student not allowed to finish her presentation.

“After Brynn took her seat, the teacher explained to Brynn in front of all the other students that she was not allowed to talk about the Bible or share its verses,” Advocates for Faith & Freedom stated.

Attorney Robert Tyler, Advocates for Faith & Freedom’s general counsel in the case, demanded in the letter that TVUSD adopt a new policy “to prohibit school officials from expressing disapproval or hostility toward religion or toward religious viewpoints expressed by students.”

The letter also demands TVUSD provide a written apology to Brynn and allow her to complete her speech in class.

Advocates for Faith & Freedom threatened further legal action if an appropriate response is not received from TVUSD by Jan. 20.

The firm also calls attention to another letter sent to the district in October 2013 regarding an incident at Margarita Middle School when a student who chose to read the Bible for a class assignment to read a non-fiction work for 30 minutes. When the seventh-grader told the teacher he had read the Book of Genesis, the teacher allegedly told him the Bible did not qualify as non-fiction.

“It appears by the recent incident involving Brynn Williams that the District has done nothing to address the lack of appropriate staff training resulting in ongoing discriminatory practices by its employees,” Tyler wrote.

Reached Tuesday, TVUSD Spokeswoman Melanie Norton confirmed receipt of the letter, as well as the previous one regarding the alleged Margarita Middle School incident.

“The Temecula Valley Unified School District respects all students’ rights under the Constitution and takes very seriously any allegation of discrimination,” Norton wrote in an emailed response to Patch. “Due to the fact that District officials are currently investigating the allegations, it would be inappropriate to provide further comment at this time.”

Advocates for Faith & Freedom became involved with this latest incident following a meeting between the principal of the school and Brynn’s mother, Gina Williams. During the meeting requested by Gina, the principal allegedly informed her that California's Educational Codes support the teacher's actions.

“The principal explained that the school district has strict rules about sharing beliefs publicly because there have been lawsuits,” Tyler wrote. “The principal had apparently spoken to the teacher and said that the teacher had to stop Brynn because ‘we don't want to offend other students.’ Moreover, Gina was told by the principal that, ‘Brynn can write about her beliefs in her journal, in her class work and on her homework, but she is not allowed to share her beliefs aloud to other students.’”

The letter stated that Brynn was invited to recite her speech for the principal without any other students around.

In a follow-up email, the principal purportedly suggested to Gina that the teacher did not "stop" Brynn's presentation, rather the class ran out of time.

In a news release regarding the case, Tyler stated: “The disapproval and hostility that Christian students have come to experience in our nation's public schools has become epidemic. I hope that TVUSD will take the lead role in adopting a model policy to prohibit this abuse that has become all too common place for religious-minded students.”

Advocates for Faith & Freedom stated that the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause “prohibits disapproval and hostility toward religion,” and that while teachers and public officials should refrain from establishing or endorsing religion, there is no legal prohibition against students doing so.

Tyler wrote that according to the TVUSD Board Policy 6141.2 (a), “Students may express their beliefs about religion in their homework, artwork and other class work if the expression is germane to the assignment."

Therefore, Tyler wrote, when Brynn was prevented from sharing her family Christmas tradition which involved a religious belief, it would appear the teacher violated that policy.

“It is unclear however, whether the school district interprets this policy to the extent that the policy would protect Brynn's speech and it is unclear whether the school district provides its teachers any guidance for implementing the policy,” Tyler wrote. “Regardless, the teacher humiliated Brynn in front of all her classmates when she stated that Brynn could not talk about the Bible or read any verses.”

Attorney Nic Cocis is serving as co-counsel in this case, and said he experienced religious persecution as an elementary school student in communist Romania before his family immigrated to the United States.

"The censorship of Christianity was something I came to expect in Romanian schools, not here in the United States," Cocis said. “I don't want my kids to experience what I experienced as a Christian in Romania."

Advocates for Faith & Freedom’s representation in the TVUSD situation comes after an incident reported in the West Covina Unified School District. The firm alleged that when first-grader Isaiah Martinez was passing out candy canes with a Biblical message attached, he was allegedly told, "Jesus is not allowed in school.”

Marjorie Marrale January 15, 2014 at 10:40 AM
It sounds like the student was only complying with the assignment. If they don't want this kind of thing to happen better lesson plans should be made. Separation of church and state is necessary because whatever religion presented will be unbalanced by the lack of representation of all other religion. Therefore it's better to practice your religion at the church of your choice and don't bring it to school.
ChrisG January 15, 2014 at 11:03 AM
This is not a separation of church and state issue. Why are you so afraid of a child sharing her religious tradition?
Al Abbott January 15, 2014 at 11:15 AM
The child was asked to share a Christmas tradition, not a holiday tradition.... and everybody please say aloud with me the first 6 letters in Christmas....That's right.... so it was very appropriate of her to do so. And Alek's child should have something of beauty to share about his religion, not hate. The atheists and agnostics can read a book in the library. We have destroyed society to please a few. Shame Shame on all of us for destroying morality for our desires. I went 2nd -12th grade in TVUSD and I was witness to Christmas parties being taken away and called holiday parties and then none at all, being able to dress up at Halloween and then that taken away, remember the pledge of allegiance and a flag hung in every class....all it takes is a generation and our children will be lost. My child is in TVUSD and he reads his bible for assignments all the time, and we make it very clear that he will continue to do so in public, private or where ever he wants and he will freely and openly talk about our religion if asked, he will not push it on anybody or use it to offend anybody. But he will not be silenced or have his religion insulted. I would hope that all of us parents would look back to our grand parents and further and regain the family values and culture they tried to teach us. The schools and society have brain washed us into thinking we are smarter than those who came before us...... look at the news, we are not.
Monique Albritton January 16, 2014 at 02:07 PM
Enroll your child at Bundy Canyon Christian School in Wildomar. Tuition is low and they use the Abeka God-centered curriculum...every subject is taught from God's viewpoint and not man's or the worlds. And they love Jesus! Little Brynn can talk about her Christian God, her Christian Savior, her Christian family and her Christian values all day long! And she will be praised, encouraged and rewarded for doing so!!! God is not dead! He's surely alive...at Bundy Canyon Christian School!
Nancy January 21, 2014 at 03:34 AM
Looks more and more like this "religion" controversy will not be ending until the GREAT JUDGEMENT DAY. God will be the One to decide who is right and who is wrong! Some will be in horror, some will be ecstatic! I will be in the ecstatic group.....I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE JESUS CHRIST MY LORD; HE DIED THAT WE MAY LIVE.....HE ROSE AGAIN AND TOOK FULL VICTORY AND ETERNAL LIFE IS NOW MINE! He knocks on the door of every heart!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ANSWER before it is too late.


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