'Blatant Violation of the US Constitution': AZ Christian University Sues School District
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Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) attorneys representing Arizona Christian University (ACU) filed suit Thursday against Washington Elementary School District (WESD) for permanently cutting ties with the university because of its religious beliefs.
As CBN News reported on March 7, the reason the school district voted to end its partnership with ACU is it deemed the university's student-teachers Christian faith as a threat to LGBTQ students.
For the past 11 years, ACU and WESD, the largest elementary school district in Arizona serving Phoenix and Glendale, had a mutually beneficial partnership where students in the university's elementary educational program would student-teach and shadow teachers in the school district.
The district's contract renewal with ACU was a routine item, put on the district's Feb. 23 consent agenda with a recommendation from the administration that it be renewed, according to AZ Central.
But at the latest school board meeting, when it came time to discuss the ACU contract, three of the school board's five members – who identify as members of the LGBTQ community – called for the contract not to be renewed. They argued that having student teachers with biblical values would pose a threat to LGBT students, according to The Christian Post.
All five board members voted unanimously to terminate the district's relationship with ACU because of its religious beliefs on biblical marriage and sexuality even though no complaints had been made about an Arizona Christian student or alumnus.
The school district's decision to discriminate against the university because of its religious beliefs violates ACU's constitutionally protected freedoms, according to the ADF, a nonprofit religious rights law firm.
The 37-page lawsuit notes that school district officials showed blatant hostility to those beliefs, questioning how one could "be committed to Jesus Christ" and yet, at the same time, respect LGBTQ students and board members.
One board member even stated that the mere presence of ACU student teachers would make some students—and herself—feel "unsafe." Another stated she was "embarrassed" that she allowed the school district's partnership with ACU to continue for so long.
"By discriminating against Arizona Christian University and denying it an opportunity to participate in the student-teacher program because of its religious status and beliefs, the school district is in blatant violation of the U.S. Constitution, not to mention state law that protects ACU's religious freedom," ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman, vice president of U.S. litigation, said in a statement. "Washington Elementary School District officials are causing irreparable harm to ACU every day they force it to choose between its religious beliefs and partnering with the area's public schools."
Through its partnership with WESD, ACU's students were able to obtain the necessary real-world experience in order to graduate, and the school district benefited by having additional, free teaching assistance. In fact, the school district has hired several ACU graduates who previously student-taught in one of its schools.
"For over a decade, Arizona Christian University's Elementary Education programs have happily served children in the Phoenix and Glendale communities in partnership with Washington Elementary School District. Our university students pursuing teaching careers bring respect, kindness, and excellence to the elementary classrooms," Dr. Linnea Lyding, Dean of the Shelly Roden School of Education and the School of Arts, Science & Humanities at ACU, said in a statement. "We certainly hope we can continue our partnership with this district for the benefit of the elementary children in our community and for our student-teachers."
ADF attorneys filed Arizona Christian University v. Washington Elementary School District in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona.
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