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Lunch-hour Bible study draws official complaint

7:12 PM, Dec 5, 2013   |    comments
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DENVER - A dispute over a lunch-hour Bible study inside the Colorado Department of Education has led an employee to file a formal complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division.

A state employee says she was a "required attendee" of her supervisor's bi-weekly Bible study discussions at CDE's Office of Professional Services and Educator Licensure.

Theresa Chavez's attorney says Chavez was punished after she stopped attending the Wednesday and Thursday Bible study sessions inside Norma Lawanson's office.

"She told her supervisor that she no longer wanted to attend the studies, and things just went downhill from there," said attorney Jennifer Robinson. "The Bible studies were on state property, at work, during work hours (and) using state resources."

The classes have since been canceled according to numerous emails obtained by 9Wants to Know. Chavez stopped attending them in the spring after she came back to work after a leave of absence.

The complaint to the Colorado Civil Rights Division was filed in September. A formal response to the matter from the Colorado Department of Education was delivered to Chavez in October. The Colorado Civil Rights Division has yet to act on the complaint.

In a letter sent to the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, a Human Services Director for the Colorado Department of Education denied the accusations saying, in part, "the Colorado Department of Education denies all allegations of discrimination, retaliation and harassment."

"If at any time Ms. Chavez would have stated to Ms. Lawanson that she no longer wanted to attend or talk about church, activities, or studies, Ms. Lawanson would have ended those discussions," the director added. 

A spokesperson for CDE would not comment to 9WTK citing personnel issues.

DU Sturm College of Law Assistant Professor Nancy Leong said workplace Bible studies aren't off limits, but they become problematic if not a violation of civil rights if and when they are deemed to be mandatory. 

"It's alright to have a Bible study during work hours potentially on work property as long as everyone who is participating is participating voluntarily," she said. 

"There is sort of a continuum of what's OK and what's not. So requiring someone to attend is certainly not OK," she added.

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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