Dear Friend, Recently, Advocates for Faith & Freedom was contacted by Gary Nelson regarding his third grader, Victoria, who attends an elementary school in the Temecula Valley Unified School District. The family was disheartened a couple of years ago—when Victoria was in first grade—and was not allowed to donate a Bible to the school-sponsored book donation program.
Because of the media attention received on the Brynn Williams case, in which Brynn was not allowed to finish her Christmas presentation because she tried to quote a Scripture, Mr. Nelson was moved to contact Advocates after realizing Victoria’s rights had been violated.
The elementary school offers a “Birthday Book Program” in which students may elect to celebrate their birthday by donating a book to the school library on their birthday. The donated book has the student’s name inserted on the front inside cover. The school then formally recognizes the student at the Friday Flag Salute Assembly. The student is called up in front of the entire school so that he or she can hold their book up and get a picture taken with their donated book.
On Victoria’s birthday, she brought her favorite book to school to donate…the Bible. She handed the Bible over to her teacher and said, “John is my favorite book!” The teacher smiled and accepted the book with a thank you. A few days later, the teacher handed the book back to the student’s father, Gary Nelson, explaining, “The principal said students cannot donate the Bible. It cannot be in the library,” reported Mr. Nelson. That Friday Mr. Nelson had to explain to his daughter that her book had been rejected by the school and that she could not be recognized at the assembly. The family was upset because they felt that not only had the Bible been rejected, but so was the student.
Advocates’ attorneys wrote a detailed 9-page letter to the school district explaining that the Establishment Clause “mandates governmental neutrality” not only among different religions, but also “between religion and non-religion.” Here, the principal’s rejection of the Bible as a viable donation towards the school library was a message of disapproval towards religion. After our attorney met with Mr. Nelson and the school principal, the principal apologized and Victoria was finally recognized at the next assembly and was allowed to donate her favorite book, the Bible, to her school library.
This case is yet another example of District employees lacking knowledge of First Amendment rights, as well as lack of proper policies and employee training. Victoria had the right to give the school the Bible under the book donation program, the school had the right to receive it, and students now have a right to go to the library and read it. We Praise the Lord for this victory!
We are grateful for the Williams family and their courage to stand up for Brynn’s rights! Mr. Nelson commented that had it not been for the Williams’ coming forward, the Bible would not be in Victoria’s school today. “I teach my children that Jesus does not hit singles and get on first base…He only hits home runs!” He went on to say, “Because TVUSD “pushed back” on the Williams case, it caught my attention in the media and this issue got resolved too! All for His glory!”
Update on First Graders Brynn Williams and Isaiah Martinez
Brynn Williams tried to read John 3:16 during a Christmas presentation in her class but was stopped by her teacher before she could read the Scripture. Isaiah Martinez was told that “Jesus is not allowed in school” by his teacher and watched as his teacher tore off his Christmas message attached to the candy canes he intended to give to his classmates. In both of these cases, we filed complaints with each of their school districts hoping to persuade the school boards to adopt policies that will educate and train school officials about the First Amendment liberties afforded to students and to implement a policy that prohibits school officials from expressing religious hostility and intolerance toward religion. We are in the process of negotiating with each of the school districts. If the districts refuse to respect our demands, we will likely file federal lawsuits to compel each district’s compliance.
Will you stand with Advocates? Here’s how you can help:
- Pray with us, for our students, teachers, and administrators.
- Give a financial gift so that we can continue in this work.
- Let us know if you experience or hear about any hostility towards religion in the public schools.
We thank you for your faithfulness and your prayers as we press on in this mission!
Maybe you noticed that our February newsletter didn’t come at the end of the month as usual. Well, both Jen and I were very busy during the month of February. Jen and Jordan Bursch were blessed with the birth of their first child, Harper Grace Bursch. She was a real miracle in the making after beating the odds of some medical complications. Please pray for God’s continued blessings on this beautiful and healthy gift of life.