FFRF brings suit over censorship of atheist scholarships (June 13, 2016)

Plaintiff David Dionne stands in front of the offices of the Antelope Valley Union High School District.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, with the Antelope Valley Freethinkers and its head David Dionne, sued the Antelope Valley Union High School District on April 12, 2016 after the school district repeatedly refused to advertise scholarships offered by the groups because of their atheism.

The groups sought to have scholarships on the topics of “Being a Young Freethinker in the Antelope Valley,” “Young, bold and nonbelieving: Challenges of being a nonbeliever of color,” and “Why I’m Good Without God: Challenges of being a young nonbeliever” listed alongside other scholarships, including scholarships that require recipients to be Christians and write about their faith. The district said that the freethought prompts appeared to “promote anti-religious expression” and had “aggressive” and “argumentative undertones towards religion.”

After repeated unsuccessful attempts to convince the district to back off its unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination, the groups filed suit in the U.S. District Court, Central District of California. California attorney David Kaloyanides represented the plaintiffs along with FFRF’s Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel and Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler. The case, No. 2:16-cv-02487, sat before Judge Manuel Real, a 92-year-old Lyndon B. Johnson appointee.

The district quickly offered to settle, and the case was resolved entirely just two months after it was filed. The district agreed to treat all scholarships equally, “without regard to the viewpoint on the issue of religion or lack of religion,” and to notify all juniors and seniors of FFRF and the Antelope Valley Freethinkers’ scholarships. The district also paid $10,000 for FFRF’s attorney’s fees.

Freedom From Religion Foundation