Religious speech censorship lawsuit settled
DEMING, NEW MEXICO – A lawsuit filed by high school senior Regina Bishop to stop religious censorship at Deming High School was resolved last week in favor of the student’s First Amendment rights.
Bishop, captain of the Deming huddle of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, promoted See You at the Pole at Deming High School in September 2001. See You at the Pole is a national student-initiated, student-led prayer movement.
But school authorities decided the Bible verses on the posters and flyers violated the so-called "separation of church and state." The posters and flyers contained the words "Taking a stand for Christ," "I kneel before the Father," and "We bow down." Officials taped over the words on the posters and flyers.
That’s when Bishop and her father turned to the Alliance Defense Fund to protect Bishop’s freedom of religion and right to free speech.
The lawsuit, filed in United States District Court for the District of New Mexico, named the Deming Public Schools Board of Education, Superintendent Hector Madrid, and Deming High School Principal Eric Cress as defendants. Alliance Defense Fund Chief Counsel Benjamin W. Bull represented Bishop. The settlement includes a negotiated stipulation and consent order in which the Deming School District and other defendants agreed to allow student religious expression on the school campus, including on student posters and flyers. Expression is already permitted on other subjects.
The Defendants also agreed to adopt a new speech policy that prohibits discrimination against student religious expression on campus. The consent order provides that the federal court will retain continuing jurisdiction over the school district to enforce the terms of the stipulation and new policy.
The Federal Equal Access Act of 1984 and developing case law in Supreme Court opinions on equal access helped make the difference for students of faith in Deming. In 2001 the U.S. Supreme Court further clarified that the Constitution protects public school students of faith in Good News Club v. Milford. The Milford school system argued unsuccessfully that allowing a club to meet after school hours is an establishment of religion, a violation of the "separation of church and state," but the high court affirmed that religious groups must be given the same access to school facilities as other groups.
"This is a victory for student religious expression," said Bull. "It is unconstitutional for school authorities to ban or discriminate against student religious speech. It is unfortunate that we sometimes need to file federal lawsuits to prevent school officials from treating religious scripture as if it were pornography, or worse."