A public school in California ordered a 7-year-old boy to stop handing out Bible verses during lunch – and they dispatched a deputy sheriff to the child’s home to enforce the directive.
“This is a clear, gross violation of the rights of a child,” said Horatio Mihet, a Liberty Counsel attorney representing the first-grader who attends Desert Rose Elementary School in Palmdale. They are also representing his parents, Christina and Jaime Zavala.
Here’s the back story:
Mrs. Zavala made it a practice of including a Bible verse and encouraging note in her son’s lunch bag. The boy would tell his friends about the note and read them aloud at the lunch table.
It wasn’t long before children asked for copies of the notes and Mrs. Zavala obliged – including a brief note to explain the daily Bible verse.
On April 18 a teacher called Mrs. Zavala and said her son would no longer be able to share the Bible verses because he was “not allowed to share such things while at school.”
Liberty Counsel said the school would only allow the child to distribute the Bible verses outside the school gate – after the bell rang.
They say the teacher told Mrs. Zavala that her son “could no longer read or share Bible verses or stories at lunch” – citing “separation of church and state.”
So, Mr. and Mrs. Zavala complied with the school’s clearly unconstitutional edict.
But on May 9, the school’s principal decided to implement a complete ban on the Bible verse sharing.
Liberty Counsel alleges the boy was ordered to stop handing out notes because “it was against school policy.” The principal told the boy and his father to move to a public sidewalk. They complied with the principal’s demand.
It would be just a few hours later – when the Zavala family heard a knock at their front door.
“The deputy sheriff said he had been sent by the school,” Liberty Counsel attorney Richard Mast told me. “The deputy went on to tell the parents that the school was worried that someone might be offended by the Bible verses.”
Liberty Counsel said the deputy sheriff was not belligerent or threatening. The family was not served with any sort of legal documents. It appeared to be a “friendly” warning.
“It was outrageous and should shock the conscious of every freedom-loving American,” Mihet told me. “Apparently all the real criminals have been dealt with in Palmdale – and now they’re going after kids who share Bible verses during lunch time.”
I reached out to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department but they did not return my telephone calls.
Raul Maldonado, the superintendent of Palmdale School District, told me they are reviewing the matter and consulting with legal counsel.
“I can confirm the District’s understanding that a member of the Sheriff’s department visited the home,” he said. “However, the District is not yet clear as to the specific nature of that engagement.”
He did not respond to questions about who ordered the deputy sheriff to visit the child’s home or why the visit was necessary – especially since the family complied with the school’s directives.
“The District remains committed to ensuring an environment where all students, regardless of religious affiliation or belief, are free to learn and reach their full potential,” Maldonado said.
With all due respect, Mr. Maldonado – that is a load of hooey.
It appears to me that the deputy sheriff was dispatched to the home as part of a strategy to intimidate the Zavala family.
“I would expect something like this to happen in Communist Romania – where I went to elementary school – but cops don’t bully 7-year-olds who want to talk about Jesus in the Land of the Free,” Mihet said.
Students do not check their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse door, he said.
“If students are permitted to pass out Valentine or birthday cards at school or to talk about Superman and Captain America at lunch, they cannot be prohibited from sharing Bible verses and discussing their faith during their free, non-instructional time,” Mihet told me.
Liberty Counsel is demanding the school stop its policy of suppressing and censoring student religious speech. If they fail to comply, the school could face a federal lawsuit.
And for good measure – we can only hope that Liberty Counsel will use a deputy sheriff to hand deliver the lawsuit to the school’s principal.
Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary, heard on hundreds of radio stations. His latest book is "God Less America: Real Stories From the Front Lines of the Attack on Traditional Values." Follow Todd on Twitter @ToddStarnes and find him on Facebook.