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Attorney: Temecula Teacher Stops 1st-Grader From Talking About Jesus in School

The Temecula Valley Unified School District is facing a possible religious discrimination lawsuit over the incident.

Temecula first-grader Brynn Williams is pictured with a Star of Bethlehem from atop her family's Christmas tree. She brought the star to school as part of an assignment to share a family Christmas tradition, attorneys say. (Courtesy photo)
Temecula first-grader Brynn Williams is pictured with a Star of Bethlehem from atop her family's Christmas tree. She brought the star to school as part of an assignment to share a family Christmas tradition, attorneys say. (Courtesy photo)

Legal action alleging religious discrimination may potentially be brought against the Temecula Valley Unified School District following an incident in which a teacher purportedly stopped a first-grader from finishing a presentation about the Star of Bethlehem and what it meant to her family at Christmas-time.

Advocates for Faith & Freedom, a Murrieta-based nonprofit legal firm whose stated mission is to “protect religious liberty in the courts,” sent a seven-page demand letter Monday to TVUSD’s superintendent and board president regarding the Dec. 18, 2013 incident at Helen Hunt Jackson Elementary School.

According to the letter, the student, Brynn Williams, brought the Star of Bethlehem to school as part of an assignment to find something at home that represents a family Christmas tradition, put it in a canvas bag provided by the teacher, bring it to school, and be prepared to share the family tradition.

The letter alleged that as Brynn was in the midst of giving her one-minute presentation, the teacher said: “Stop right there! Go take your seat!”

Brynn was allegedly not allowed to finish her presentation by reciting the Bible verse, John 3:16 and the only student not allowed to finish her presentation.

“After Brynn took her seat, the teacher explained to Brynn in front of all the other students that she was not allowed to talk about the Bible or share its verses,” Advocates for Faith & Freedom stated.

Attorney Robert Tyler, Advocates for Faith & Freedom’s general counsel in the case, demanded in the letter that TVUSD adopt a new policy “to prohibit school officials from expressing disapproval or hostility toward religion or toward religious viewpoints expressed by students.”

The letter also demands TVUSD provide a written apology to Brynn and allow her to complete her speech in class.

Advocates for Faith & Freedom threatened further legal action if an appropriate response is not received from TVUSD by Jan. 20.

The firm also calls attention to another letter sent to the district in October 2013 regarding an incident at Margarita Middle School when a student who chose to read the Bible for a class assignment to read a non-fiction work for 30 minutes. When the seventh-grader told the teacher he had read the Book of Genesis, the teacher allegedly told him the Bible did not qualify as non-fiction.

“It appears by the recent incident involving Brynn Williams that the District has done nothing to address the lack of appropriate staff training resulting in ongoing discriminatory practices by its employees,” Tyler wrote.

Reached Tuesday, TVUSD Spokeswoman Melanie Norton confirmed receipt of the letter, as well as the previous one regarding the alleged Margarita Middle School incident.

“The Temecula Valley Unified School District respects all students’ rights under the Constitution and takes very seriously any allegation of discrimination,” Norton wrote in an emailed response to Patch. “Due to the fact that District officials are currently investigating the allegations, it would be inappropriate to provide further comment at this time.”

Advocates for Faith & Freedom became involved with this latest incident following a meeting between the principal of the school and Brynn’s mother, Gina Williams. During the meeting requested by Gina, the principal allegedly informed her that California's Educational Codes support the teacher's actions.

“The principal explained that the school district has strict rules about sharing beliefs publicly because there have been lawsuits,” Tyler wrote. “The principal had apparently spoken to the teacher and said that the teacher had to stop Brynn because ‘we don't want to offend other students.’ Moreover, Gina was told by the principal that, ‘Brynn can write about her beliefs in her journal, in her class work and on her homework, but she is not allowed to share her beliefs aloud to other students.’”

The letter stated that Brynn was invited to recite her speech for the principal without any other students around.

In a follow-up email, the principal purportedly suggested to Gina that the teacher did not "stop" Brynn's presentation, rather the class ran out of time.

In a news release regarding the case, Tyler stated: “The disapproval and hostility that Christian students have come to experience in our nation's public schools has become epidemic. I hope that TVUSD will take the lead role in adopting a model policy to prohibit this abuse that has become all too common place for religious-minded students.”

Advocates for Faith & Freedom stated that the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause “prohibits disapproval and hostility toward religion,” and that while teachers and public officials should refrain from establishing or endorsing religion, there is no legal prohibition against students doing so.

Tyler wrote that according to the TVUSD Board Policy 6141.2 (a), “Students may express their beliefs about religion in their homework, artwork and other class work if the expression is germane to the assignment."

Therefore, Tyler wrote, when Brynn was prevented from sharing her family Christmas tradition which involved a religious belief, it would appear the teacher violated that policy.

“It is unclear however, whether the school district interprets this policy to the extent that the policy would protect Brynn's speech and it is unclear whether the school district provides its teachers any guidance for implementing the policy,” Tyler wrote. “Regardless, the teacher humiliated Brynn in front of all her classmates when she stated that Brynn could not talk about the Bible or read any verses.”

Attorney Nic Cocis is serving as co-counsel in this case, and said he experienced religious persecution as an elementary school student in communist Romania before his family immigrated to the United States.

"The censorship of Christianity was something I came to expect in Romanian schools, not here in the United States," Cocis said. “I don't want my kids to experience what I experienced as a Christian in Romania."

Advocates for Faith & Freedom’s representation in the TVUSD situation comes after an incident reported in the West Covina Unified School District. The firm alleged that when first-grader Isaiah Martinez was passing out candy canes with a Biblical message attached, he was allegedly told, "Jesus is not allowed in school.”

Alek J Hidell January 14, 2014 at 04:34 PM
My child also wishes to explain to all your children about our Muslim faith and why we feel the need for jihad and you have no right to stop him from doing so.....so my attorney is watching this case very carefully.......... God Bless and W'asalaamu alaikum......
Katie Rucker January 14, 2014 at 05:11 PM
Let me get this straight. The assignment was "Family Christmas Traditions"- not "Family Winter Traditions", right? The assignment was a tradition revolving around a well-known Christian holiday. The girl brought in a Christian example for her Christian holiday assignment...and the teacher was SURPRISED? What am I missing here? The laws only prevent teachers from enforcing religious bias. There are no laws preventing students from discussing religion or praying in school, only preventing the teachers from forcing religion on the students.
Steve Newman January 14, 2014 at 05:15 PM
Alek- muslim- that explains a lot.
Jeff Kleiner January 14, 2014 at 05:32 PM
Right Wing Confederates aren't prejudice are they Stevie? Proof is in the pudding, and you have pudding all over your belly aching head.
Jeff Kleiner January 14, 2014 at 05:34 PM
Katie or students proselytizing on school grounds with religious books and literature.
SA January 14, 2014 at 05:36 PM
Brynn is a cute little girl … Man she was just sharing something special to her which was assigned to her. Now she may have reservations on future sharing… Her teacher is an ass for scolding her in front of the class…. P.S. Hidell is a Communist so please disregard his ignorant comments….
Steve Newman January 14, 2014 at 05:43 PM
Convict Kleiner- belly aching head- you are certifiable aren't you. Big words for a convict-proselytizing- did you learn that one on CNN-or maybe your "buddy " Joe told it to you. How is that restraining order from 6 months ago coming , swimmer.? You can't get one because no judge will issue one for no reason- except in your TV driven mind.
my comment January 14, 2014 at 07:54 PM
She could have easily talked about the family tradition without reading from the bible
Mr. Logical January 14, 2014 at 08:36 PM
Students aren't allowed to use the "G" word in school anymore. It used to be other words we were afraid of. Now, in a country that was founded on religious freedom, it's a shock when any student wants to talk about their faith. She has every right to share a passage from the Bible. I hope the lawsuit helps straighten out some people with the law of the United States and students rights to speak freely.
AlwaysPO'd January 14, 2014 at 09:31 PM
This is just part of the upside-down world we now walk around in. Seinfeld called it "bizzro-world". Society has grown by millions and yet it has never been more alone from one another than it is today. These changes we see today make it abundantly clear what direction humans are hurtling towards and all the while, the very diminutive, demanding it be enacted as progress? If no one pushes back, this is what rises to the top.
ChrisG January 14, 2014 at 10:35 PM
Our schools in general run scared and go overboard. Just last week on the news a boy was suspended because he ate his pop tart into the shape of a gun. The whole Christmas tradition is Christian. This is not a separation of church and state issue. This is our society not wanting to share ideas out of the fear of hurting someone's feelings. Totally insane.
Dee January 15, 2014 at 09:53 AM
One Man two thousand years ago turned the world upside down. There's only One Man who can stir mere man's emotions to the point of either love or hate and disdain. Why is that? Why does man hate Jesus sooo much? Because sin hates light. And Light is the revelation of Jesus Christ. Don't ever let mere man shut your mouth from proclaiming the One who died for His own.
LBV Collins January 15, 2014 at 11:15 AM
I grow tied of reading stories about Christians claiming they're being persecuted. When the Romans fed Christians to the lions... THAT was persecution. But stopping a little girl from reading versus from the New Testament to other students in public school is NOT persecution. It's adhering to our Constitution's 1st Amendment. As Alek J. Hidell points out, this lawsuit isn't simply about Christians being oppressed by not being allowed to proselytize in public schools. This is about ALL religions being oppressed by not being allowed to proselytize in public schools. How many people are keeping an eye on the Pandora's Box that Oklahoma State unleashed on itself when it decided to allow a Ten Commandments monument to be erected on the State Capitol's grounds? A satanic group recently unveiled designs for a 7-foot-tall statue of Satan that it wants to put at the Oklahoma state Capitol, right next to the Ten Commandments monument. (Here's a picture: http://news.yahoo.com/group-unveils-satan-statue-design-oklahoma-224102124.html) So to those Christians who feel they're being persecuted, and who demand the right for their kids to preach the Gospel to their fellow classmates... be careful what you wish for. Because if you "win" that right, your child could very well come home one day and announce s/he decided to worship the Dark Lord. (I can't help but suspect that would most likely happen during their rebellious teenage years.) Please, practice your religion at home or in church or in Sunday school. Not in our public schools.
Jeff Kleiner January 15, 2014 at 11:15 AM
Dee, then why on this blog aren't you driving home Jesus' main priority of taking care of the poor. It's his main talking point, besides the overall love and tolerance of one another???
Dee January 15, 2014 at 11:48 AM
The only POOR are the POOR in spirit. Don't compromise. There is no other God. There is only ONE. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. All others that are derived from man's imagination are lost, lies, that all lead to eternal death.
Dee January 15, 2014 at 11:50 AM
Jesus didn't tolerate, neither do His children. He warned against lies. The best love one can show another, is to tell them the truth. The hate is not warning.
Dee January 15, 2014 at 11:55 AM
@kleiner, how do you know what Jesus' priority is? You haven't read the bible, which is His message to mankind. His priority is salvation. I gave you the answer. Please read read read and take in God's message, the bible.
Jeff Kleiner January 15, 2014 at 12:06 PM
I read the Bible and go to church so don't tell me what he preached. God's purpose was to use Jesus to redeem the sins of Adam and give humankind a second chance. But Jesus' words were for people on earth. I believe helping the poor is mentioned 234 times in the Scriptures. I would say that a HIGH PRIORITY.
Dee January 15, 2014 at 12:15 PM
Yeah, Jesus warned of some churches that are lead by wolves in sheep clothing. They're dangerous in that they turn out lukewarm and deceived Christians. So sad. Read 1 Cor 2:14. Be a little more "tolerant", huh? Some are just more tolerant of evil, and not truth.
Jeff Kleiner January 15, 2014 at 12:34 PM
That would be your church if they haven't stressed and preached forgiveness, tolerance and doing EVERYTHING to help the poor. That means people of all countries......ALL THE POOR. Luckily for California, Democrats have a super majority and are proposing an update to the law so illegal immigrants (not illegal for too much longer)be included in the coverage of Obamacare......LOL....take that Dee!!!
Dee January 15, 2014 at 12:55 PM
People, this is NOT what Christianity is. People call themselves one, but they are not. Matthew 7:6-8. Posers like to pose as Christians. It gives them a sense of righteousness. But they are always exposed. Mainly by their own mouths. That's why I will apply matthew 7:6-8 to mr. Klein. So sorry for you, sir.
John Smith January 15, 2014 at 01:15 PM
People that lie to their community and family but claim God is on their side are living hypocrites. Dee you defined Kleiner perfectly.
Jeff Kleiner January 15, 2014 at 01:21 PM
Dee, anyone reading your posts can tell you don't love God and his message. Your God is conservatism and its propaganda Fox News. Live in your ideology of hatred, discrimination and prejudice. It's all you know.
Jeff Kleiner January 15, 2014 at 01:30 PM
Fez, I agree with your post. Tolerance. Learning is part of school teaching. You're right she wasn't trying to preach. Reading a Bible scripture should not be banned. Showing the families Christmas Star was taking rules to an extreme not needed. Every child should be exposed to different religions. The school was not banning a child trying to convert others. The school was wrong.
Fez January 15, 2014 at 01:35 PM
Fez January 15, 2014 at 01:21 PM The child was sharing her Christmas tradition as was required. She was not preaching for anyone to convert to her beliefs....don't get it twisted. She was SHARING her Christmas beliefs. How sad it is that this world has become so quick to pass judgement. There are many offensive things that go on in schools but don't get such a reaction. If she is not allowed to bring a star in and recite a bible verse that expressed her family tradition....then nobody should be allowed to openly express any form of belief or tradition. There are many things that can be deemed offensive to some and not to others. The school district, as well as parents need to instill tolerance. There will be many things in life that will offend a person one way or the other. Bottom line is....what did this little girl do that was so wrong? Answer.....absolutely nothing. Teach your kids to be tolerant and what issues need to be taken to another level. This teacher was absolutely incorrect. Her reaction was more detrimental than what this little girl was SHARING. What did she teach her class if young students.....to lack tolerance as opposed to simply listening to another child's family tradition. What were the other children's share topics ? Did anyone speak on Santa Claus or going to see visit Santa Claus? Should a child be refrained from speaking on Santa Claus....believing in him is offensive to many people....the answer is....of course that child should not be refrained from talking about Santa. How sad this is. Learn tolerance and that life is filled with things that offend or whatever. Sorry for the long post.
John Smith January 15, 2014 at 01:52 PM
Jeff Clowner anyone reading your racist posts is cracking up at the hypocrisy. Jeff please give us a lesson in stalking. How do you obtain the medical records of your enemy and post them? Do you get help?
B-Cat January 15, 2014 at 06:54 PM
its a fine line that teachers must walk today and it seems they are damned if they do and damned if they dont. Christmas is what it is the 1st part of the word is Christ-followed by mas=Christmas. I understand the need of separation of church and state, without that you wind up with something like they have in the Middle East where religious heads of state control the military and the educational system as well as numerous other things. Back to Christmas-Its only a thought but it seems Christmas can be more powerful than Toys-R-Us, Macy's, etc.and BIG Business will have none of that. Christmas is used to sell, sell,sell, you rarely ever hear of Christ till a day before the holiday when they show the Pope and people going to church [something many do not even do during the year] only to justify the holiday. Do we really understand what Christmas really is? The little girl that wanted to show what it was to her and her family could have been very educational to those not of the same faith that may not understand how it affects people but will now not be able to see that. What ever happened to the days when we went to school and the teacher asked us to show the class our differences? if those days are gone who's responsible? by not learning you create division in our society, not good. I feel sorry for the teacher, the little girl and all the students, everyone lost out. Remember Santa Claus is not on the cross, what do you worship?
Steve Newman January 16, 2014 at 11:57 AM
Convict Kleiner- your religious rantings show what a hypocrite you are- you want the poor helped because that is you. Entitlement taker. And tell me genius, if the demoncrats in california have the majority, how is that going to affect Federal Law. It can not- you are blowing hot air again- and anytime you can not make an argument, you fall back on the old attack the conservatives dogma. Racist, stalkers, pervert-and you read the bible-what a joke.
chuck2251 January 23, 2014 at 06:36 PM
FIRE THE TEACHER AND CHANGE THE SCHOOL BOARD IF NECESSARY.
LBV Collins January 23, 2014 at 06:41 PM
@chuck2251: Eloquently stated, Charles. Concise. Poignant. Rational.

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