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School leader privately admits 'indefensible' breach of church and state

3:00 PM, Nov 21, 2013   |    comments
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UPDATE:

SkyView Academy committed an "indefensible" violation of the separation of church and state in its work with the evangelical Christian charity Operation Christmas Child , according to a private email from one of the school's principals. Previously, the charter school had publicly denied wrongdoing and said it wouldn't risk a threatened lawsuit in order to protect its "resources and reputation."

The private email from SkyView Elementary Principal Mike Munier was inadvertently sent to 9Wants To Know's Kyle Clark.

READ: Mike Munier's email

Munier's email said the religious rights attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom said SkyView "had an indefensible case due to a mistake on our part."

"I don't know what he's referencing," said Lorrie Grove, President of SkyView's Board of Governors.

"It had nothing to do with anybody telling us we had an indefensible case," Grove said.

Alliance Defense Fund senior legal counsel Jeremy Tedesco declined to discuss ADF's involvement in the SkyView case but said it is possible for schools to partner with Operation Christmas Child within the bounds of the law.

"Alliance Defending Freedom looks forward to working with the school to ensure the return of Operation Christmas Child next year, if that is the course it decides to take," Tedesco said.

Grove said SkyView will adopt a policy for student-led service projects and if a student suggests a project for Operation Christmas Child, that will be considered.

Munier did not directly respond to a request for clarification as to what he was referring to as SkyView's "indefensible" mistake.

The American Humanist Association, which threatened to sue the school, said SkyView violated the Establishment Clause by "aggressively" encouraging student participation in Operation Christmas Child, which provides gift boxes to poor children in the developing world in order to promote Christianity.

"The unconstitutional endorsement is heighted in this case due to the school's explicit efforts in bribing students with a pizza or ice cream party or a dress of choice day (for middle school students) for the class that collects the most boxes," the AHA's cease-and-desist letter read.

ORIGINAL POST:

HIGHLANDS RANCH - The threat of a lawsuit by a non-believers group has convinced a charter school in Douglas County to cut ties with a Christmas gift drive run by an evangelical Christian organization.

Parents upset with SkyView Academy's decision are planning a "Religious Rights Rally" outside the school Wednesday.

In past years, SkyView students have filled boxes with toys to be distributed to poor children in the developing world by Samaritan's Purse, a religious organization run by Franklin Graham.

READ: Parents continue drive despite lawsuit threat

9NEWS obtained an email to parents sent November 15 explaining the school's decision to drop the program rather than risk a lawsuit from the American Humanist Association.

"Our school has never endorsed any particular religious view," the email stated. "This decision is based on the importance of protecting our school's program, resources, and reputation, which would be at risk if we chose to engage in this national argument."

A parent called the situation "the definition of bullying."

"It's tragic our school was bullied down," said parent Kendal Unruh. "Understandably, our school doesn't want to engage in a costly legal fight. However, I still want this egregious violation of our legal liberties being violated to be known publicly."

The American Humanist Association sent a cease and desist letter to SkyView on November 13.

"Because the purpose and effect of Operation Christmas Child is to induce impoverished children to convert to Christianity, the school's promotion of this program violates the Constitution," the letter read.

"The boxes of toys are essentially a bribe, expressly used to pressure desperately poor children living in developing countries to convert to Christianity, and are delivered with prayers, sermons, evangelical tracts and pressure to convert," the letter said.

The AHA encouraged the school to donate already prepared boxes to "an appropriately secular program, such as Toys for Tots."

SkyView's email to parents suggested they drop off the boxes at Operation Christmas Child locations other than the school.

"It is important to focus on the teaching moment that is present with this situation," the school told parents. "This situation offers an opportunity to discuss giving, citizenship and the need for healthy debate and discussion about our country's laws and government."

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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