Colorado: Jewish Teacher Sues School for Promoting Christianity

Florence High School

A Jewish teacher in Colorado recently sued a public high school as well as the school district for promoting Christianity, saying that its practices violate the separation of church and state. Robert Basevitz filed his lawsuit at the United States District Court of Colorado against Florence High School, its principal Brian Schipper, as well as Fremont RE2 School District and its superintendent Rhonda Vendetii after he was transferred to another school.

In his complaint, Basevitz alleged that Florence High School operates extensively to promote the evangelical ideals of The Cowboy Church at Crossroads that carries out a range of religious activities on school premises.

“Plaintiff asks that defendants' actions be declared unconstitutional and illegal, and that this court enjoin them from engaging in any further such activity,” his lawsuit read.

Before his transfer, Basevitz had protested against the church’s ubiquitous presence in the school, which among other things included a daily morning prayer in front of the school building, right next to the flagpole.

“Either Pastor (Randy) Pfaff or another member of the church has been present for this ceremony every day for the last three years. With the school's support, Pastor Pfaff has led these services, ministering to the school's students and staff while holding a Bible and using a public address system to preach his evangelical Christian messages,” he said.

During one particular incident, Basevitz mentioned in his lawsuit, he saw the school’s staff using the public announcement system to deliver a prayer ceremony headed by Pfaff. This incident allegedly took place on September 24, 2014, the day on which Rosh Hashanah or the Jewish New Year is celebrated. Apparently, Basevitz complained to the school’s principal on that day, specifying how the sectarian service on school premises had violated the basic tenets of the American constitution. Yet, no action was taken.

In December last year, Basevitz met with Schipper and Vendetti a second time to officially lodge a complaint against the church’s ubiquitous presence in the school. He was told then, that if such services bothered him as much, he could use the school’s side entrances to enter or leave the premises during those periods. Eventually, on January 20 this year, Schipper informed Basevitz that he would be transferred to Penrose Elementary School, refusing to give him a valid reason for the same.

In his lawsuit, Basevitz said the defendants’ actions had not only demonstrated their endorsement of religion over nonreligion but also the promotion of Christianity over all other faiths.

“The defendants' actions are designed to, and have the effect of, showing favoritism toward religion, and in particular Christianity, in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution,” the lawsuit stated.

In his lawsuit, Basevitz asked the court to rule unconstitutional the defendants’ actions that evidently endorsed religious activities at the school, including the sponsoring of the church activities, distributing Bibles among students, presenting scripture to students, proselytizing staff, hosting school events at Christian venues and hosting evangelical  groups.

Photo Credits: CBS Denver

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