Despite only one side of the story being told, nearly 100 people turned out for a rally at Helen Hunt Jackson Elementary School in Temecula to support a family who allege their little girl was denied her freedom of expression rights by a teacher at the campus.
“It was nice and peaceful. This is how our town works,” said rally organizer Ernie White, who is a member of OccupyTeaParty.net, the group largely responsible for getting the word out about Tuesday’s rally.
White and the others turned out in support of Helen Hunt first-grader Brynn Williams. Her story was first shared Jan. 14 on Patch after an attorney representing her family drafted a demand letter accusing a Helen Hunt teacher of stopping the child from finishing a presentation about the Star of Bethlehem and what it meant to her family at Christmas-time.
According to the seven-page Jan. 13 demand letter from Murrieta-based Advocates for Faith & Freedom attorney Robert Tyler to Temecula Valley Unified School District’s superintendent and board president regarding the alleged Dec. 18, 2013 incident at Helen Hunt, Brynn “worked diligently on a one-minute presentation in order to explain to the class that her family's tradition is to remember the birth of Jesus at Christmas-time.”
Brynn’s presentation was allegedly part of an assignment from a Helen Hunt teacher.
“Brynn's teacher had, over the course of approximately three weeks, given every child in her class a canvas bag with verbal instructions to find something at home that represents a family Christmas tradition, put it in the bag, bring it to school, and be prepared to share the family tradition,” the demand letter alleges.
The letter goes on to state that Brynn began to tell her class how “the three kings followed the star to find baby Jesus, the savior of the world. John...,” but was suddenly stopped by the teacher after the word “John.”
Brynn was told, "Stop right there! Go take your seat,” the letter alleges.
White admitted Tuesday he had not read the demand letter, but said religion was not his reason for organizing the rally.
“This is about freedom of expression,” he said.
Several rally participants turned out Tuesday carrying signs bearing quotes from the Bible, but White said he would support any student in this same situation, no matter the faith.
White, who has in the past protested against mosques in Temecula, was asked by Patch if he would support the child if she were of Muslim faith and had brought something to school representing that religion.
“We would support them in a minute,” he said.
Also at the rally Tuesday was Murrieta resident Diana Serafin, an Occupy Tea Party Patriot who helped spread the word about the rally. In an email she sent out to her database, she called on “Patriots” to “Bring your Bibles or other worship material.”
When asked why the group chose the elementary school campus to rally at, Serafin and White said the point was not to intimidate or frighten children but instead to support freedom of speech.
The protesters were lined up along Paseo Gallante and Camino San Dimas streets, and never set foot on campus, Serafin said. Some rally participants carried American flags, another the yellow and black Gadsden flag depicting a coiled rattlesnake with the famous “Don’t Tread on Me” phrase. Other rally participants carried signs with slogans such as “Know Your Rights: Read the Constitution.”
Murrieta City Council Mayor Pro Tem Henry Ramos also turned out to support Brynn and her family, and what he said are the “rights of all Americans.”
“I was really taken aback by the story,” Ramos said. Speaking Tuesday, he had a message for Brynn: She is invited to a Murrieta City Council meeting to give the presentation she was allegedly not allowed to finish.
“I would love that opportunity,” he said.
For its part, the Temecula Valley Unified School District is still not releasing any comments on the matter, although district spokeswoman Melanie Norton said Tuesday that a statement is expected once the district has finished its investigation of the matter.
Norton could not confirm nor deny whether the alleged first-grade assignment was specific to Christmas.
“I honestly do not know,” she said.