Colorado Public High School Basically A Church, Saving Kids With Jesus Pizza
Oh, goody, time for another Church-n-state fight! This time, it's in the tiny town of Florence, Colorado, population 3881, where a Jewish teacher has filed a lawsuit claiming the town's only high school is largely a subsidiary of an evangelical Christian church that meets in the school's cafeteria every Sunday, and whose pastor leads daily prayer services at the school as well as lunchtime prayer sessions called "Jesus Pizza."
Teacher Robert Basevitz was hired to teach special education at Florence High School in the fall of 2014 and contends that the evangelical activities of Pastor Randy Pfaff, whose church rents space at the school, go well beyond what's allowed by the Constitution. Basevitz's lawsuit claims that the school "operates largely to promote the evangelical Christian ideals of The
Cowboy Church at Crossroads," Pfaff's congregation. Beyond the weekly church services and daily prayers at the flagpole, which Basevitz says are regularly attended by the school's principal, Brian Schipper, and other staff, much of the school's time is devoted to activities of the "The Fellowship of Christian Huskies," ostensibly a club formed by students. Basevitz's complaint says that the Fellowship is instead:
a front designed to allow Pastor Pfaff and the Church to use the school as a platform for his “mission work” of preaching to students and staff. Thus, despite claims of student leadership, Pastor Pfaff has publically stated that he is the group’s leader.
The daily morning prayers at the flagpole are led by Pfaff, who sometimes uses a PA system. While the flag meetings take place outside school hours, the complaint says the gatherings are "sometimes promoted to the students in advance by the School’s staff over its public address system, along with flyers jointly listing Principal Schipper and Pastor Pfaff as contact persons," and that "students who did not attend were questioned by other students about their absence." On at least two occasions, the meetings were so large that it was impossible to enter the school's main entrance; when Basevitz complained to Principal Schipper, he was told he could always use the side entrance, which was mighty sporting of the principal.
And then there's the "Jesus Pizza": weekly lunchtime meetings where Pfaff serves pizza and prays with the students. Also too the assemblies where personalized Bibles are distributed to students. And the Christian rock concerts. The complaint alleges that on a single day, May 15, 2014, the school had no fewer than five separate Christian events: the flagpole prayer, the lunch meeting, an all-school assembly by an evangelical group, a Christian rock concert after school, and a "scholarship night" with the distribution of Bibles to students -- with the school's principal and vice principal participating. You sort of wonder when they found time to fit in any Driver's Ed (with St. Christopher medals) or Home Ec (no gay penis cakes allowed) that day.
Also, too, did we mention Basevitz is Jewish, and that after he lodged a formal complaint with the district about the public high school being run like Jesus Camp, he overheard a student complain "we can’t do Jesus Pizza because Mr. B. is Jewish.” At least they didn't throw him down the well! About a month after Basevitz complained, he was abruptly transferred to another school, without written notice. The lawsuit also claims:
That same day, Superintendent [Rhonda] Vendetti sent Mr. Basevitz a letter stating that no action would be taken against Principal Schipper or Pastor Pfaff in response to his complaint.
Not surprisingly, the good Rev. Pfaff doesn't see what the problem is, telling The Denver Post, "I don't believe the Constitution was meant to keep God out of the schools. That's absolutely absurd ... This nation was founded on Christianity."
Shortly after Basevitz's complaint, Pfaff, who runs the Fellowship of Christian Huskies Facebook page, posted what the lawsuit suggests was a pointed message:
That Feb. 10 post was later replaced by this purely coincidental message:
One of the bizarre aspects of this story is just how much of what Pfaff and the school are doing would still be legal, if scaled back some. For instance, the morning prayers at the flagpole would be legal if organized and led solely by students, as would the lunchtime meetings. Similarly, the Supreme Court is OK with churches renting school facilities for Sunday services. But once you've got the school administration and a pastor running prayer services every day of the week, yeah, that's over the Establishment Clause line.
Principal Schipper told a local TV station that no way was the school promoting religion:
We're a school. We educate kids," said Schipper. "We educate kids in every academic area and social area and life area. Religion's not in our curriculum anywhere."
Curriculum? Why would they need to have Christianity in the curriculum when every other aspect of the school day is drenched with it?
Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.