Education

First-grade girl’s assigned Christmas speech censored for mention of Christ

Teachers in Southern California continue to demonstrate their inability to understand that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution expressly forbids government agents from interfering with individuals who are exercising their religious beliefs.

The victim of the latest incident is a first grader at Helen Hunt-Jackson Elementary School in the inland California city of Temecula, according to Advocates for Faith & Freedom, a nonprofit law firm representing the student.

The family of the student, Brynn Williams, claims that the little girl’s teacher gave her explicit instructions to bring something from home that represents her family’s Christmas tradition. She was then supposed to give a presentation about that thing to the whole class on Dec. 18.

Williams and her family discussed the matter and chose the Star of Bethlehem adorning the top of the family Christmas tree. The star, they said, represents the family’s tradition of observing that Christmas is the day Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the central figure of Christianity.

Williams was the last student in the first-grade class to give her one-minute presentation. Here’s the part she managed to get out:

“Our Christmas tradition is to put a star on top of our tree. The star is named the Star of Bethlehem. The three kings followed the star to find baby Jesus, the Savior of the world. John…”

At that point, the girl’s unidentified teacher at the public, taxpayer-funded school interrupted her, according to the attorneys working on her behalf.

“Stop right there! Go take your seat!” the teacher allegedly said. The teacher then explained to the entire class of first-grade students her judgment as a constitutional scholar that students are flatly prohibited from mentioning any part of the Bible in class.

Had Williams been allowed to finish, she would have quoted John 3:16, which reads:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

When the little girl’s mother, Gina Williams, later complained to the school principal, the principal sided with the teacher, citing California law and district policy.

The principal, identified as Ami Paradise on the school’s website, also allegedly said the teacher had no choice but to stop the first grader’s assigned Christmas speech because “we don’t want to offend other students.”

Later, the girl’s parents say, the principal invited the little girl into her office and made her cry by saying she had heard the series of one-minute presentations went wonderfully.

Robert Tyler, an attorney for Advocates for Faith & Freedom, has sent a lengthy demand letter to the Temecula Valley Unified School District addressing the incident and pertinent federal court cases among much else.

The letter cites Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, a seminal 1969 Supreme Court case, for the bedrock law on the subject: “[S]tudent expression may not be suppressed unless school officials reasonably conclude that it will ‘materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school.'”

It’s not clear how a brief and famous statement about the birth of the figure for whom Christmas is named would materially and substantially disrupt a speech or a series of speeches about Christmas.

The lawyer’s letter demands that the school district adopt a new policy expressly prohibiting teachers and school officials from treating religion with hostility. It also demands a formal apology for Williams and her family, and that teachers and school officials receive much-needed First Amendment training once a year.

In addition, the letter notes that this incident marks the third time that Advocates for Faith & Freedom has intervened on behalf of a student in the Temecula Valley school district.

School district officials have not responded to the demand letter, reports CBS Los Angeles.

The allegations made by the Williams family are eerily similar to the allegations made against another Southern California first-grade teacher involving candy canes at a Christmas party. (RELATED: First-grade teacher seizes Christian kid’s candy canes, says ‘Jesus is not allowed in school’)

In that incident, a first-grade teacher named Valerie Lu allegedly snatched a bunch of candy canes bearing a brief religious message from a boy in her class. She told the kid “Jesus is not allowed in school” and then — right in front of his little six-year-old eyes — ripped the religious messages from each candy cane and dumped them in a trashcan.

One of the candy canes was for Lu. The rest were for the boy’s classmates.

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