School District Sued for Shutting Down Student-led Prayer Group

The last time I was in contact with the Christian Law Association, they told me that it was perfectly legal for students to initiate conversations dealing with religion and to pray at school. Teachers are not allowed to initiate prayer or religious discussion separate from what a lesson plan calls for, but students can ask questions and bring up topics like Christianity, creation and the Bible. Teachers are even legally allowed to answer student’s questions.

However, most school districts are either too afraid of lawsuits or have become so liberal and anti-Christian that they regularly violate the constitutional and First Amendment rights of students which is what happened recently in Colorado Springs.

Chase Windebank is a senior at Pine Creek High School. Chase is an ardent Christian who likes to share his faith. For three years he has used a free Seminar period to meet with fellow classmates to pray, discuss their faith and sing Christian songs. Nothing was done to stop the student led prayer and worship time until one day when Windebank was called into the school office and told that he had to stop the meetings because they violated the US Constitution.

Windebank immediately contacted the Alliance Defending Freedom for legal advice and help. According to ADF:

“The school district’s Open Time Policy permits all students to leave class 15 minutes after the beginning of the ‘seminar’ home-room period on Mondays and Wednesdays. Students who are earning more than a ‘D’ grade can do the same on Fridays. School district policies and procedures define ‘open time’ in numerous places as consisting of lunchtime and the seminar period.”

“During the free time, students are permitted to engage in a virtually unlimited variety of activities, including gathering with other students inside or outside; reading; sending text messages to their friends; playing games on their phone; visiting the bathrooms; getting a snack; visiting teachers; and conducting official meetings of school clubs.”

“For three years, student Chase Windebank met during the free period on Mondays and Fridays with students in an unoccupied choir room to pray, sing Christian songs, and discuss issues of the day from a religious perspective. On Sept. 29, Assistant Principal James Lucas told Windebank that the meetings could continue but any religious speech would have to stop because of the ‘separation of church and state,’ an inaccurate shorthand description of the First Amendment, which actually protects private religious expression.”

“Lucas and Principal Kolette Back said Windebank and the other students could only engage in religious speech before or after school. Because the school forced the students to meet for prayer and religious discussion either before or after school – and because of the difficulties students have in meeting at those times due to sports, work, or other factors – the number of students participating has dwindled from approximately 90 students to as low as 12.”

ADF Attorney Matt Sharp commented about Windebank’s rights:

“Far from being unconstitutional, religious speech is expressly protected by the First Amendment, and public schools have no business stopping students from praying together during their free time.”

Jeremy Tedesco, ADF Senior Legal Counsel, added:

“Public schools should encourage the free exchange of ideas. Instead, this school implemented an ill-conceived ban that singles out religious speech for censorship during free time.”

ADF explained the student’s legal rights and those rights complied with the school district’s policy on the free time Seminar period. However, the district stuck by their claims that the student’s religious meetings were violating the supposed separation of church of state and their legal counsel supported the district’s stance.

That left no alternative for Alliance Defending Freedom to file a lawsuit, Windebank v. Academy School District #20 in the US District Court for the District of Colorado. It’s sad that it takes this kind of legal action in order to protect the constitutional rights of students. Hopefully, the school district will come to their legal senses and admit that they are wrong and allow Chase Windebank to resume his Christian meetings.