FFRF Stops Public School’s Promotion of Religious Activity (August 31, 2009)

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed suit on Oct. 10, 2007, against the Cherry Creek School District in Denver, Colo., for illegally urging that children spend an hour a week at a religious institution. Filed on behalf of three parents and their three children, the lawsuit challenges a program known as “40 Developmental Assets.” Defendants are Supt. Monte C. Moses and the school district. The district urges parents to put the assets “to work in your family, your school, and your community,” promises success for children who are “asset-rich,” and warns that not having these assets can “kill you.” Asset 19 states: “Religious Community–Young person spends one or more hours per week in activities in a religious institution.”

“This Asset,” the Foundation legal complaint notes, “is prominently posted in Cherry Creek public schools alongside the photo of a young child with her hands clasped as though in prayer under the title ‘Faith Community.’ ” The “adoption, promotion, endorsement, approval and publicizing of Development Asset 19” by the district “constitute an establishment of religion in violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution,” as well as violating the prohibition against teaching sectarian tenets or doctrines found in the Colorado Constitution. The school district has agreed to stipulate to the Foundation’s request for a protective order, which will keep the identity of the parents and children confidential to protect them from reprisal.

UPDATE: On Sept. 8, 2008, U.S. Dist. Judge Marcia S. Krieger dismissed FFRF’s lawsuit, but gave FFRF 10 days to file an amended brief. Stay tuned.

Round Two: FFRF amended its legal complaint, and linked the violation to the Lutheran Brotherhood in September 2008. Attorney Richard R. Tiernan introduced evidence linking the District’s 40 Developmental Assets to a Lutheran, scripture-based program. The Foundation’s refilings document the religious origins and purpose of the assets. “Each of the Assets has a stated biblical underpinning and the history of the Assets program clearly shows that religion is at its core,” states Tiernan. Each asset is actually based on specific biblical references. “Service to others,” for instance, is explicitly based on 1 Isaiah 6 and Romans 12:9-13. Revealing affidavits by two Denver men familiar with the “40 Assets” programs were also filed.

“Plaintiffs contend that the 40 Assets taken as a whole constitute a moral code for young people promulgated by the Lutheran religion or a sect thereof,” which violates the First Amendment, as does Asset 19 taken separately.

The 40 Developmental Assets were developed by the Search Institute (originally known as the Lutheran Youth Group), and it is the Foundation’s belief it continues to be heavily financed by the Lutheran Brotherhood. Institute Board Members include representatives of the National Council of Churches, the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, Outreach National Baptist and National Network of Youth Ministries.

FFRF settled its federal lawsuit in August 2009 after a nearly 2-year protracted legal case. FFRF and the school district agreed to add “secular (nonreligious)” to the list of organizations which the school district was encouraging students to spend “one of more hours per week” in educational or civic pursuits, including not only religious but irreligious.

Freedom From Religion Foundation