For the past three years, a group of Christian students at Pine Creek High School in Colorado Springs, CO have met during a free period to pray and discuss their religious views. Though they typically meet in an abandoned classroom so as to not disturb other students, their prayer group is not an official function of the school, but is instead a voluntary, unofficial meeting between classmates during a non-instructional free period when students are allowed to meet with friends and discuss or do whatever they choose. According to Fox News, one of the students, Chase Windebank, was ordered to Assistant Principal James Lucas’ office on September 29, whereupon he was told that his group was no longer allowed to meet to pray and discuss Christianity during school hours.
In response, a religious liberty-focused law firm called Alliance Defending Freedom took up Windebank’s case and filed suit in federal court last week, alleging that his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights had been violated. Attorney Jeremy Tedesco, who is representing Windebank, said, “He was told that he could no longer pray with his fellow students during free time because of the separation of church and state… He was told that he could pray before the school day begins or after the school day ends but he could not do it during the school day.”
The complaint Tedesco filed on behalf of Windebank describes how the free period in question works at Pine Creek High School, “Defendant Academy School District No. 20 (the “District”) has implemented a policy (the ‘Open Time Policy’) which permits all students to be excused from the homeroom period of the school day, called ‘Seminar,’ on Mondays and Wednesdays, and students who meet certain academic qualifications to be excused from Seminar on Fridays, to engage in a virtually unlimited variety of activities of the students’ own choosing, including hanging out in the cafeteria and other open areas with friends, playing on their phones, meeting together for expressive activities (including both formally recognized clubs and unofficial groups), and going outside to hang out together… This Open Time is akin to recess or lunch period where students have long been recognized to have the right to engage in expressive activities… At the same time, pursuant to the Open Time Policy, Defendants permit other students to meet together in informal groups (among the multitude of other permissible activities) during Seminar time and discuss from a nonreligious perspective the same or similar matters Chase seeks to discuss and pray about from a religious perspective with his friends.”
A school spokesperson said to Fox News, “Students were told that, according to state law and district policy, they could meet during non-instructional time… That is before or after school.”