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D20 school board quote triggers separation of church and state controversy

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- A quote with religious undertones is triggering debates over what should be allowed during school board meetings in Southern Colorado.

At Thursday's Academy School District 20's School Board meeting, Aaron Salt, a recently elected School Board Director, is scheduled to read a quote from Benjamin Franklin aloud after the pledge of allegiance. The quote encourages a bible in every house.

A D20 spokesperson tells 13 Investigates they've received at least half a dozen complaints about the quote.

"Perhaps they don't see it as inappropriate in this public service context," said Avalon Manly, a high school teacher at Rampart High School in D20.

Manly is one of the individuals who sent a complaint to the district via email.

“I am alarmed at the suggestion that personal perspectives and personal religious perspectives are manifesting in a public board where people are working in a position of service,” Manly said.  

According to D20, there are currently four policies in place that pertain to religion that exist for both staff and students. However, no such policy appears to exist when it comes to board members.

"School boards implying you need to read the bible or be a Christian to be a moral person is just not an appropriate message," said Chris Line, a staff attorney with the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). "It’s just going to exclude people."

The FFRF is a national state/church watchdog organization that has more than 31,000 nonreligious members and 20 chapters all over the country, including Colorado Springs.

"We receive complaints from all across the country all fifty states," Line told 13 Investigates. "(Members) report violations of the separation of church and state (to us). We work with them, and we contact school districts, school boards, and local governments. We try to make sure that these government entities are not promoting or endorsing religion."

On behalf of the FFRF, Line wrote a letter to the Academy School District Board of Directors asking them not to recite the Benjamin Franklin quote at Thursday's meeting.

"The Board of Education quotes are recited by board members as board meetings and are clearly government speech, which must not endorse religion," Line wrote in the letter to the D20 school board. "Furthermore, including religious messages as part of school board meetings sends an exclusionary message that alienates non-Christian and non-religious members of the Colorado Springs community."

The letter goes on to say that reciting a religious quote during a board meeting is very similar to a prayer, which violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Salt, the school board member set to recite the quote, says he hasn't been asked by anyone at D20 to remove the quote from the Thursday meeting's agenda. In a statement to 13 Investigates, the board member says the letter sent by the FFRF is an attack on his own First Amendment rights.

We, as a board, have many discussions between the realm of the home and the realm of the school. This quote marries those two realms, highlighting the importance of both in the development of our students. I have read the letter, and I've confirmed with outside legal counsel who specialize in constitutional law that I have solid footing and am in no way violating the Establishment Cause. In fact, I believe this to be an assault on my own First Amendment rights, and I'm not going to perpetuate the trend of allowing elected officials to be bullied and silenced on false claims.

Aaron Salt, Academy School District 20 Board Director

Line with FFRF tells 13 Investigates if a pattern of behavior is established at Academy School District 20 showing that board members are using their positions as a means to promote religious messages then they would look into taking action. Line wouldn't specify exactly what those actions look like.

In Nov 2014, the FFRF filed a complaint against the Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education in a California District Court. The suit alleged that the district's board meetings “resemble a church service more than a school board meeting.”

A U.S. District Judge decided in favor of FFRF in 2016, finding that “permitting religious prayer in board meetings, and the policy and custom of reciting prayers, bible readings, and proselytizing at board meetings, constitute unconstitutional government endorsements of religion in violation of plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights.”

The Chino Valley Unified School District Board appealed the District Judges decision but lost in 2019. The school board was ordered to pay more than $200,000 for the initial case.

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Dan Beedie

Dan is a reporter with the 13 Investigates team. Learn more about Dan here.

Comments

37 Comments

      1. It’s not proselytizing to point out that people who go into paroxysms of panic over the word bible need help.
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        “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…”

    1. Those silly people attempting to uphold the separation of Church and State that was established in 1802. Funny when it matches ones morality it is acceptable, when it doesn’t it is referred to as being “triggered”, regardless of the correct legal stance on the topic.

      1. For example, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black famously stated in Everson v. Board of Education that “[t]he First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state,” and that “[t]hat wall must be kept high and impregnable.”

      2. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…”

        1. When did separating church and state equate to prohibition of religion? You can exercise religion, in your church, synagogue, mosque, or temple or domicile. School is not a place for religion, it is for education, and learning.

          1. The correct legal stance on the subject is that;
            .
            “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…” period.
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            No matter how badly certain factions want to claim it says that any expression of Christianity in any public forum is forbidden. That is an illegal action, and the first amendment says nothing of the sort! Congress may not establish a state religion or prohibit the expression thereof! That is all it says on the subject no matter how much people strain to say it forbids any Christian expression.

        2. Furthermore, If the separation of church and state was viewed as Unconst(i)tutional wouldn’t it have been repealed in the timespan between 1802 and 2022? 220 years and it is still in place. You can be religious in your school, but teaching religion in a public school has always been taboo because of these principles as we are a nation of many people, of many faiths and religions, and teaching 1 specific belief in faith is indoctrination.

          1. You can tie yourself up in knots all you want trying to say that the First Amendment prohibits the expression of Christianity in a school until you turn blue in the face. It says nothing like that and you know it. In fact, the First Amendment expressly forbids the prohibition of “free expression thereof;…” And every time you come back with a twisted lie about how expressing Christianity in any forum you name is illegal, I will come back at you by again quoting the exact words of The Law.

      3. Can’t EVEN Post About T.J.’s 1802 Letter To the *********, here!! Gotta wonder WTH is Wrong This board!

    2. Wait until you see how triggered some Christians are when the Board has to give “equal time” and starts reciting some Satanic chant at a Board meeting.

      1. No one was reading from the bible. No one was preaching. A quote was read that had the word bible in it. That’s all.
        .
        “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…”

  1. You want to know why our society is the way it is? Take God out of the schools, stop teaching them the pledge of allegiance and allow the indoctrination of socialism. So you can’t mention religion but you can teach crt (which is bs) and socialism but we can’t talk about God. We are truly lost if they want something in that talks about religion who cares, if you don’t like it don’t do it, this is called freedom of choice. Do we give parents that same freedom of choice when boards and teachers try to teach their agendas to out kids, No we don’t get a choice. Stop your belly aching all the time and live your life..

  2. Parents are upset because they don’t want to believe in or be confronted with morality. That is because then they would have to realize that they are not raising their kids to be moral people. It is heart breaking to watch parents defend their kids behavior and not even try to see their kids is at fault or wrong. Just like what is happening with the kids driving around and pulling out a gel ammo gun and shooting people in the face to fulfill a TiKTok challenge….. The parents don’t care and are covering for their kids.

    1. Don’t confuse morality and religion. Many religious people are known to be as immoral as they come, and there are many people with high morals who are not religious. I don’t think I need to provide examples to anyone.

  3. The whole premise of the 1st Amendment was that they did not want the church running or influencing the government, like it is in Britain. It was not written with the intent that governmental officials can never mention religion.

  4. There are bad people in every people-group as there are good, Everyone worships a deity, even if it is Self. Objecting to A Standard shows antisocial proclivity. Co-operative theory-practice/Mutual Benefits of working with others, even if they’re enemies, would mean everyone WINS, loses just a little, but too many are focused on MY Win only. Work together for overall success or fight and ALL Lose.

    1. No. The more you prohibit all of my expressions of my faith, the harder I will fight you. And you can pretend to be taking a high moral stance by suggesting a compromise, but my belief in my living God says I will not compromise with you by staying silent…which is what you are suggesting.

      1. And your stance appears to put down every other world religion. Most real religious leaders would disagree with that opinion.

        1. My “stance” is this”:
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          “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…”
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          Nothing more, nothing less. I don’t “put down” any religion. I am a Christian, and that is the one religion that all atheists and satanists fight against with every fiber of their being. I have a legal right to pray or read my bible in public, and if it triggers you, well that’s sad for you.

      2. I’M Not trying to quash anyone’s’ expressions of faith, not asking for SILENCE, as Does The Leftists. I Personally Will Never ‘submit’ TO ‘the leftists’, islam, and Will test any Christian ‘dictate'(or any others) against The Holy Spirit:any thing that contradicts, Will Be IGNORED and Fought Against. Anyone who gets their panties in a bunch of the mere Word “bible”, need to be REMOVED from teaching or ruling on teaching.

  5. It just kills me that asking people to keep their silly cringe-inducing beliefs to themselves is somehowan infringement on THEIR rights! Someone desperately needs to make people understand that religion is like masturbation… something you should only do in the privacy of your own home!
    Not everyone has been so easily duped by the trappings of religions, so please stop punishing the rest of us for your gullibility.

    1. No one stops you from using foul language in public, or making out with your partner, or wearing jeans so low that the waistband sits below your backside, or hundreds of other behaviors that might be offensive to me or others, because you have the >>>right<<>>rights<<>>right<<< to go elsewhere or cover your ears or pretend you're an adult who can handle upsetting things without crying or having a psychological meltdown.

      1. Somehow part of my previous comment got left out. This part: And if I say the word bible in a public place and it bothers you, you have the right

        1. It’s funny how you object to being asked not to say certain things, and yet you object strongly to people who say opposite things. Can’t you see how you are promoting the same double standard that you claim to be so firmly against? That’s what people are objecting to.

          1. At no time have I even intimated that you or anyone else can’t say something. At no time have I said that what you say offends me therefore you can’t say it. At no time have I objected to any different views or said that those different views should not be voiced. What I have said is this:
            .
            “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…”
            .
            When you have to resort to a strawman you’ve already lost your place in the discussion.

  6. Why is it always the large purple haired women who are offended by morality and wholesome family living?

  7. Even this board CAN’T abide the “bible” and the Alternate Authority to that of ‘this world’.

  8. Here’s a quote they should open their meetings with: ““Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.”

  9. Winston and others, Separation of church and state is not about expression of your faith or beliefs. It is about the inability of a nation that has several people of several beliefs and faiths having “Equal rights” to share their beliefs. If there is a quote from the bible in public educations, then their must also be the same opportunity for all other faiths to do the same in the same do(c)ument for that equality to exist.
    It is not a matter of shutting down Christianity specifically as you believe, it is more aptly equalizing Christianity as every other faith is given and represented. The separation of Church and state is not stating that one cannot have faith in their beliefs, more aptly it is a recognition that with acceptance of every faith the 1st Amendment provides their quite simply isn’t enough time or space in education to teach everyone each faith equally, as would be required for their to not be the apparent appearance of religious indoctrination. So if they can’t provide equality then the only solution is absolute abstinence to beyond reproach.
    I get it that most Christians do not understand this concept and believe that being treated like the rest of the faiths and religions is a slight to them, which just goes to showing the inequality that exists and comes from them. I forgive you / them for this lack of understanding, as your teachings tell you, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven” Luke 6:37

  10. There is no such thing as separation of church and state. It states that CONGRESS shall make no law establishing a state sponsored religion. People are allowed to practice religion freely but with restrictions. The right to practice is not absolute and laws exist to limit or restrict certain practices.

    1. You must have missed this statement where I mentioned that even the SCOTUS has even ruled on this topic, thus proving there is such a thing as separation of church and state.
      “For example, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black famously stated in Everson v. Board of Education that “[t]he First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state,” and that “[t]hat wall must be kept high and impregnable.””

  11. So, a quote from the man whom historians declare to be the least religious of the founding fathers has people’s undies in a bundle? How old are we? My goodness, grow up.

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