A teacher at a California public school noticed a seven-year-old boy sharing notes with other students during lunchtime, but when she looked at what they were, she reprimanded him. School officials reportedly dispatched a sheriff’s deputy to the boy’s home after discovering the controversial notes. But the ‘notes’ he was showing other students didn’t mean to cause anyone harm. They were meant to inspire them instead.
The notes in the boy’s lunchbox were from his mother, and they were Bible verses that she always included with her son’s lunch. And now, the California elementary school that sent the Sheriff to the boy’s home is accused of violating the boy’s First Amendment rights.
The Liberty Counsel, a Christian and nonprofit litigation group, is banning together in support of the boy. They are leaning towards taking legal action against Desert Rose Elementary School of Palmdale, California, for “an outrageous violation of a first grader’s constitutional rights.”
The student, who is identified as “C” would read the bible verses to his school friends during lunch. His friends would ask for copies of verses after hearing C read them aloud. The verses became so popular that C asked his mother, Christina Zavala, to pack additional Bible verses with for his friends. So, Christina included copies of the verses with short stories for context.
Soon after, a teacher called Christina, informing her that her son would no longer be able to pass out the verses at school, citing “separation of church and state.” C was instructed to only pass out his Bible notes after school was over, and only by the school’s gate.
Passing out Bible verses at the school gate soon became very popular with other students, and soon there was a group of 15 gathering at the gate after the school bell rang. A few short weeks after C and his friends began gathering at the gate, school Principal Melanie Pagliaro reportedly approached Jaime Zavala, C’s father, and requested that C move off school property altogether. C and Jaime complied, and immediately moved across the street to the public sidewalk.
That same day, the Zavala family heard a knock on their door. A Los Angeles Deputy Sheriff arrived at the Zavala’s home, telling Jaime and Christina to have C stop giving out the notes. The Liberty Counsel says the Sheriff advised that “someone might be offended” by the notes. Christina and Jaime decided to then seek legal counsel to support their son.
Raul Maldonado, Palmdale School District superintendent, said that the district was reviewing the case, and that he can confirm the Sheriff was sent to Jaime and Christina’s home. He said that he is unsure of the specific nature of the engagement, and did not confirm that the school district sent the Sheriff to the Zavala’s home. “The District remains committed to ensuring an environment where all students, regardless of religious affiliation or belief, are free to learn and reach their full potential,” Raul said.
However, in a statement by the Los Angeles police, the deputy officer was confirmed to be sent to the boy’s home to investigate the distribution of the notes.
“On May 9, 2016, a school resource deputy from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department made contact with the parents of a student regarding the dissemination of literature on school grounds. Upon making contact with the student’s parents, and learning more about what had occurred, the deputy reaffirmed the student’s rights and provided the parents information on the school’s policy for distribution of materials. We thank our community and school partners, including the faith community for their support of our deputy’s professional and compassionate demeanor while interacting with the student and his family. “Oftentimes, school resource deputies make home visits to fulfill the Sheriff’s Department’s mission of enforcing the law fairly and defending the rights of all by partnering with the people we serve to promote safety in our communities.”
Members of the Liberty Counsel are demanding that teachers and administrators stop suppressing and monitoring C’s religious freedoms. If the school doesn’t adhere to this, they could face a federal lawsuit, as a student’s religious speech is a First Amendment right.
We hope C and his family are able to keep sharing the Bible with other students, and commend them for their perseverance and bravery. No seven-year-old should be suppressed for sharing positive and uplifting messages with his classmates, and we hope that he can still share the Bible with others.