Two Christmas Victories for Advocates and Religious Liberty

The spirit of Christmas has arrived at Advocates for Faith & Freedom with the settlement of two Christmas-themed cases involving Southern California children. Both cases involve incidents that happened in December 2013. The resolution of these cases demonstrate how West Covina and Temecula Valley school districts worked with us to address our clients’ First Amendment liberties. As you may recall, Isaiah Martinez, then a first-grader, was barred from handing out candy canes to his West Covina classmates after his teacher noticed an accompanying note explaining the legend of the Isaiahcandy canes. The legend involves a candy maker who created the red-and-white-striped candies to represent the life of Jesus Christ. The teacher consulted with the principal, who told her the candy canes could not be distributed with the Christian legend attached. After school, Isaiah reported to his parents that the teacher tore off the Christian legend and told him that Jesus was not allowed in school.

We filed a federal lawsuit after several attempts to resolve the case at the school district level were unsuccessful. But in depositions for the lawsuit, the district’s representative admitted that the principal made a mistake and violated Isaiah’s rights by telling him he couldn’t give the religious-themed candy canes to his friends. The revelation helped Advocates’ staff attorney, James Long, to successfully negotiate a settlement after the school district had revised its district policy to accommodate religious liberties at all of its campuses. The district also agreed to pay Advocates for a portion of the attorney fees we incurred. The school district required that the amount remain confidential. Alex Martinez, Isaiah’s father said, “Advocates have been a blessing to my family. This organization is truly a Godsend! We thank God for Bob Tyler and the staff there.”

BrynnThe second case involved Brynn Williams who was a first grade student in December 2013 within the Temecula Unified School District. She was prevented from reading from John 3:16 during an in-class Christmas presentation. After filing an administrative complaint, the school district agreed to a settlement and we agreed to the joint statement that follows:

 The Temecula Valley Unified School District, Brynn Williams, and Brynn’s parents Gina and Shane Williams, have reached an agreement that will result in the dismissal of the administrative complaints submitted to the District by the Williams family.  The Williams family alleged that Brynn’s constitutional rights were violated when she was not permitted to read a Bible verse out loud as a part of a class assignment. The District’s internal 

investigation into the matter concluded that the actions of the classroom teacher and the principal were not anti-religious. 

Although further administrative action through an appeal and litigation are available to the Williams family, and litigation is available to District employees, the parties agree that a compromise would be more beneficial to all involved. The compromise reached by the parties is not an admission of liability on the part of either party.  The settlement presents a compromise that is in the best interests of Brynn Williams, her family, the District, District staff, and local students.

The District continues to be committed to providing an educational environment that ensures that students do not lose their constitutional rights when they enter the schoolhouse gates.  Therefore, the District will continue to work to ensure that all of its students continue to enjoy their constitutional freedoms, including religious freedoms, in harmony with District policies. 

The District agrees that it is in the best interest of all concerned to provide training to school administrators on the topic of First Amendment rights of staff and students.  The Williams family, the District, and the District’s employees are very satisfied with the outcome and the Williams family applauds the School District’s willingness to provide First Amendment training to its staff.

While both cases were two years in the making, their successful completion shows the need for persistence when advocating for religious liberty and the protection of free speech. When we take on a case, it is not something that is usually resolved in a day or even a month. It’s typically a long-term commitment with many struggles and 150 to 500 hundred hours of legal work. For example, Isaiah Martinez’ case, our attorneys logged-in more than 350 hours.

We are grateful for your continued commitment to our vital work. To that end, would you please consider helping us to continue our core mission by making a year-end tax deductible donation so that we can continue to defend your liberties along with the liberties of students like Isaiah and Brynn who simply want to share the love of Jesus? We know there are many great ministries that deserve your support and we truly appreciate any contribution you can make to Advocates for Faith & Freedom.