Colorado school booted teacher for opposing ‘Jesus pizza’ Bible studies during lunch: lawsuit
In a lawsuit filed this week, a Colorado teacher claims that officials at Florence High School are using their facility to promote evangelical Christianity in violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
Employment attorney Paul Maxon told KMGH that his client, Robert Basevitz, was Jewish and felt that the Fremont RE-2 School District, Superintendent Rhonda Vendetti and Florence High School Principal Brian Schipper had discriminated against him by conspiring to promote Christianity above all other beliefs.
“The administration is essentially running a public school as a Christian school,” Maxon explained. “On a single day last year, there were no fewer than five Evangelical activities sponsored by the school.”
“When the principal is participating in assemblies that pass out Bibles to students, it sends a message to the faculty and to the students that there’s an official religion at the school,” he observed.
According to the lawsuit, Principal Brian Schipper had allowed Pastor Randy Pfaff of Cowboy Church at Crossroads to promote Christianity throughout the school.
Pfaff was permitted to use the school’s public address system to “preach his evangelical Christian messages,” the lawsuit alleges.
And Pfaff distributed fliers “with the support of the school’s staff, including Principal Schipper,” that advertised Christian events during school hours.
Pfaff runs the the Fellowship of Christian Huskies at Florence High School, which has a stated mission to “let God back in our schools” and “[bring] others to a saving knowledge of Jesus.” Principal Schipper and five other staff members at Florence High School serve as adult sponsors for the group.
Basevitz alleged that lunchtime Bible studies at the school had been nicknamed “Jesus pizza” by the students.
After Basevitz complained to school administrators, he said that he was told to use the side doors because the prayer circle students regularly held in front of the school was so large that it blocked the main entrance.
“In an apparent attempt to ostracize [Basevitz], Defendants informed staff and students of Mr. Basevitz’s complaint and his Jewish heritage,” the lawsuit notes. “On January 9, 2015, [Basevitz] overheard a student saying, “we can’t do Jesus Pizza because Mr. B. is Jewish.”
“The fact that there’s a humorous nickname doesn’t mean it’s not serious,” Maxon pointed out. “It’s a serious matter when the Bill of Rights is violated. Some cases have gray areas about what’s illegal and not illegal. This case doesn’t have much of that.”
Following Basevitz’s complaint to the school, the lawsuit states that “Pastor Pfaff posted on the Fellowship of Christian Huskies Facebook page, ‘The enemy always fights the hardest when he knows God has something great in store.'”
Maxon said that instead of addressing the teacher’s concerns, Basevitz “was shown the door, and transferred to a different school.”
For his part, Principal Schipper insisted to KMGH that the Christian events taking place during school hours were not causing religious discrimination.
“During the morning prayer they just stand there and kids come over, kids go by, they say, ‘Good morning’ to kids,'” Schipper remarked. “It doesn’t get in the way of anybody getting into school. They make a point to stay out of the way of everybody, actually.”
“We’re preparing kids to be good, productive people when they walk out of here. We do great things every day,” he added.
Watch a video report below from KMGH.