School District Renounces Discriminatory Stance Against Religion Classes

( [email protected] ) Sep 18, 2004 05:26 PM EDT

New York school district receded from its decision to exclude a teacher from leading community education classes on religious topics after a lawsuit threat.

Bruce Bennett has been teaching in public schools for 15 years. He was shut out of a program that provided education classes of all kinds of the community. One of the district officials allegedly told the teacher, "I don't care if I'm violating the law, you're not coming into the program."

The ADF, a group specializing in legal defense and religious freedom advocacy, took up Bennett's case. ADF sent a letter accusing Patchogue-Medford Union Free School District of violating the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of the teacher.

The attorney says the school district has agreed it will no longer bar Bennett from teaching religious subjects in the community education program and now realizes that it cannot lawfully discriminate against him based on the religious content of his classes.

"I think if he'd stuck with his guns and continued along that line, certainly we would have wound up in federal court," ADF senior counsel Gary McCaleb says. "But the important thing is that this particular official and the school district made the right choice and backed off from a very wrong position and has allowed equal access."

"When you're providing equal access to people," McCaleb says, "there is no issue of Establishment Clause violation or endorsement. You're simply letting people of all sorts -- religious and nonreligious -- use government facilities, and that's what equal access is all about."

The Alliance Defense Fund is a legal alliance founded for the purpose of aggressively defending religious liberty and empowering its allies in the fight for religious freedom through strategy, training, funding, and litigation.