School ‘banishes’ 7yo student for saying he doesn’t believe in God – lawsuit
The suit – filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Indiana and obtained by the Washington Post – claims the punishment occurred after the student, named only as AB, told a classmate on the playground that he didn't go to church and didn't believe in God.
That child then started to cry, stating that AB had hurt her feelings by saying that he didn’t believe in God.
The girl's visible distress prompted a playground supervisor to report the incident to AB's teacher, identified in the suit as Michelle Myer.
In response, Myer told AB that she was “very concerned” about what he had done, and said she was going to contact his mother.
Myer forced the child to sit by himself at lunch for three days, and told him that he shouldn’t talk to the other students because he had offended them.
The lawsuit states that this was distressing to AB, as it implied that he had done something wrong by expressing his personal opinion.
However, according to the suit, the hurt did not end there.
The matter was then sent to “another adult” employed at Forest Park Elementary School. Upon hearing the story, the adult reportedly told AB's classmate that she should be “happy she has faith” and that she “should not listen to AB's bad ideas.” She then patted the girl's hand.
Despite Myer's claim that she would contact AB's parent, that phone call never took place. Instead, AB's mother found out about the incident from her son, who came home from school upset and stating that he was hated by teachers and students at the school.
This prompted his mother to call the assistant principal of the school, demanding that her child not be punished for expressing his religious views. The teacher was also included in the call, during which she confirmed her involvement in the matter.
After the phone call, AB was apparently told by Myer and other teachers that he could believe what he wants to believe.
Following his three days of punishment, AB was allowed to sit with his fellow classmates at lunch. However, the lawsuit stresses that lasting damage has been inflicted on the student.
That damage includes the fact that some students refuse to talk to the child, and that AB is now “anxious and fearful” about school.
In response to the incident, the school district released a statement: “It is clear that it is not the province of a public school to advance or inhibit religious beliefs or practices. Under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution, this remains the inviolate province of the individual and the church of his/her choice. The rights of any minority, no matter how small, must be protected.”
Citing the violation of First Amendment rights, the suit is seeking damages and attorneys' fees. The child's mother has been allowed to proceed with the lawsuit anonymously, in order to protect her child's identity.