The Douglas County School District in Colorado is being sued for its promotion of Christian organizations and their proselytizing efforts -- endorsements that violate the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause, according to an American Humanist Association lawsuit filed Wednesday.
The lawsuit outlines evidence of officials at numerous Douglas County public schools, including Highlands Ranch High School and Cougar Run Elementary School, using their positions as district employees to endorse and fundraise for two evangelical groups, Operation Christmas Child and Adventures in Missions.
At Cougar Run Elementary, a promotional flyer for a Christian mission to Guatemala organized by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Adventures in Missions was distributed to all students and parents at the public elementary school in March. According to the lawsuit, school officials solicited trip contributions from parents, asking them to make checks payable to “Cougar Run Elementary.” The school’s 6th grade class was also featured as a co-sponsor of the Christian mission, which cites sharing “the love and hope of Jesus” as a primary goal of the trip.
“School district officials also participate in and promote Christian mission trips to Belize, and officials are encouraged to attend blessings and worship services at a local Christian church to prepare for the trips,” according to the AHA.
The school district is also accused of “pressuring public school children into participating in programs that proselytize Christianity” through its promotion of Operation Christmas Child, a Christian gift package program that sends impoverished children presents with messages advocating converting to Christianity. The program is operated by the evangelical Christian organization Samaritan’s Purse, led by evangelical minister Franklin Graham.
Another Douglas County school, SkyView Academy, opted to end its affiliation with Operation Christmas Child after the AHA threatened the school with legal action in 2013.
“By pressuring public school children into participating in programs that proselytize Christianity, the school district is marginalizing religious minorities and students with no religion at all,” AHA Executive Director Roy Speckhardt said Wednesday.
The Christmas donation program has faced numerous complaints in recent years for violating students’ First Amendment rights, including one incident in 2011 where North Carolina school children were asked to answer a questionnaire that asked them to complete the sentence: “I love Jesus because ______.”
When asked for comment on the controversy, Douglas County School District spokeswoman Paula Hans replied in a statement, "Douglas County School District supports student-driven community and fundraising efforts to aid those in need. We applaud our students for being leaders and giving back to others, and will vigorously defend their right to continue to do so. We are also proud of our employees who, on their own time and with donated resources, selflessly serve those who are less fortunate."