A Christian high school student is suing his school district in federal court following a a series of suspensions that stemmed from preaching aloud at school-sponsored events.
Michael Leal passed out several Christian tracts to fellow students, which didn't sit well with administrators at Cascade High School in Everett, Washington. When Leal refused to tone down the sermons and hand-outs, he was suspended each time. But these suspensions haven't stopped the teen from preaching the Word of God to his classmates, and he's now suing the school for violating his Constitutional rights.
Leal filed the lawsuit on Monday with the help of the Pacific Justice Institute and his attorney, Conrad Reynoldson. "It is deeply troubling to see a school district dig in its heels on a policy that is so clearly unconstitutional," Pacific Justice Institute president Brad Dacus said in a statement on the organization's website. "We are eager to vindicate Mr. Leal's rights and prevent him from being expelled for simply sharing his deeply-held beliefs."
Leal now faces expulsion if he keeps up what the school is calling "substantial disruptons," even though the district claims that the punishments have nothing to do with religion.
"At no time was Mr. Leal told that his distribution of material or his statements were inappropriate at school because of their religious content," school attorney Michael Patterson said in a letter to Leal's attorney. "Rather, he was informed of District policy ... and told that he needed to comply with it. He was also informed that he could not create a substantial disruption at school or school events."
But Leal's attorney disagrees, stating that the lawsuit aims to stop "sweeping speech restrictions" by the school's policies. "The policies and procedures we are challenging in this case would prevent students from handing out not only Gospel tracts, but copies of the Constitution itself. This is an egregious violation of student rights that should concern people of all faiths and philosophical persuasions. We simply cannot allow the government to impose these types of sweeping speech restrictions."
The school contends that the problems began on September 3 when Leal was passing out Bible-related pamphlets entitled "How to Know God" during a lunch break. He was called to the principal's office and told not to distribute the information because it might offend other students, according to a report at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. When Leal was again handing out information to students during a school-sanctioned evening event, the principal approached him again and asked him to stop. When Leal refused, the police were called. Officers spoke with Leal, but otherwise didn't intervene.
The next day, Leal was suspended, with paperwork citing "boisterous conduct of religious material impinged on rights of other students." Despite this wording, the school's attorney insists that the punishments were not based on Leal's religious affiliation, but the vocal disruptions themselves.
Leal's lawsuit claims that school administrators "violated his rights by constraining his ability to discuss and express his religion," something that directly goes against the U.S. Constitution, according to his attorney.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, but the Everett School District has yet to respond.