In high school, those precious moments of freedom spent socializing in the halls catching up on the latest he-said-she-said, making plans for the weekend, and rushing to finish that last minute algebra assignment are what students live for during the school day.
Students at Pine Creek High School in Colorado get this opportunity when they are released from the latter portion of their “Seminar." They can talk, text, play games on their phones, read, get a snack, schedule meetings with teachers, and meet with various clubs.
As a freshman at Pine Creek High School, Chase Windebank began using this open time to meet with other students for a few minutes of prayer. On Mondays and Fridays, the students would gather in an empty choir room to sing religious songs, pray, and discuss current topics from a faith-based perspective. For three years, the school allowed this meeting to continue with no objection, complaint, or disruption to class activities.
One Monday morning in September 2014 Chase was called into a meeting with the assistant principal and informed that, due to “separation of church and state,” the students could not meet during the open time if they engaged in prayer or other religious speech. If they wanted to pray, they would have to meet before or after the school day— making attendance more difficult for many students due to sports practices, work, and other extracurricular commitments. Chase’s informal gatherings were the only ones subject to these limitations. Students meeting to discuss other topics, play games, or just hang out during open time remained free to do so.
Out of respect for the administration, Chase complied with the school’s demands but immediately began researching his legal rights. Chase contacted Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) for help. ADF sent a letter to the school district on Chase’s behalf explaining that the restriction on Chase’s religious speech was in violation of the First Amendment and requesting that the students be allowed to resume gathering for prayer.
ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco said, “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.”
In a written response, the school district stated that it stands by the school’s decision saying that non-curriculum clubs are not permitted to meet during the Seminar period because it is considered “instructional time.”
ADF filed a lawsuit and is currently waiting for the court’s ruling on its motion for a preliminary injunction.