Round Two: FFRF Amends Legal Complaint
A federal judge’s decision on Sept. 8 to throw out the Foundation’s lawsuit challenging endorsement of religion by the Cherry Creek School District in Denver did not keep the Foundation down for long. Foundation attorney Robert R. Tiernan, in his return bout, has introduced evidence linking the District’s 40 Developmental Assets to a Lutheran, scripture-based program.
Tiernan, on behalf of the Foundation, a Madison, Wis.-based national state/church watchdog, filed an amended brief on Sept. 16, challenging the District’s endorsement and promotion of the 40 Developmental Assets. District Supt. Monte C. Moses urges parents and children to use the assets "to work in your family, your school, and your community," promises success for children who are “asset-rich,” and warns that not following these assets can “kill you.”
Filed on behalf of three parents and their three school-aged children a year ago last October, the original lawsuit challenged Asset 19, which states: “Religious Community -- Young person spends one or more hours per week in activities in a religious institution.” This Asset 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.”
In throwing out the Foundation’s original lawsuit, District Judge Maria S. Krieger gave the Foundation 10 days to address her concerns. Krieger held that the 40 Developmental Assets program have “a secular purpose” and ruled that the Foundation could not challenge only one of the 40 assets, but had to contest “the overall package.” She challenged the Foundation to provide facts “sufficient to show that the program, in its full context, advances religion.” Krieger expressed “some doubt” that the Foundation could meet her challenge.
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. The Institute’s president, Dr. Peter L. Benson, who was most instrumental in developing the Assets, is scheduled to visit the District in May to promote the Assets. An office in the District coordinates the program with the school board and the Search Institute.
Tiernan took issue “with the Court equating this case with holiday displays where the secular objects of Christmas have been held to neutralize the religious impact of a manger scene. The Court has erroneously failed to differentiate between holiday displays on government property and this case, which involves young, impressionable children in public school settings. The latter have always received special treatment by the United States Supreme Court in religion cases.”
Tiernan said “The other 39 Developmental Assets no more neutralize the religious character of Asset 19 than did the high school football game and its attendant activities neutralize the pre-game prayer,” or a commencement graduation ceremony “neutralize” prayer. The Supreme court has ruled both types of school prayer violate the Constitution.
“Plaintiff parents are atheists and object to the Defendant School District usurping their parental rights to teach or not teach religious values to Plaintiffs’ children,” the Complaint contends.
The Assets “create an excessive entanglement with religion, have the principal effect of advancing religion, and have no valid secular purpose,” turn plaintiffs into outsiders as atheists, and place the District’s “imprimatur upon religious institutions which teach dogma with which Plaintiffs disagree, spend Plaintiffs’ tax dollars in promoting religion and religious institutions with which Plaintiffs disagree, promote the idea that attendance at religious institutions is essential to good citizenship--an idea which is offensive to Plaintiffs.”
Filing a supportive affidavit was Robert L. Stuart, who resigned as treasurer of the Community Asset Project, whose purpose is to raise funds to promote the 40 Development Assets, over his disagreement with Asset 19. Stuart notes that Prevention Office liaisons teach the assets in classrooms and post the “40 Assets” throughout schools. One teacher, he observed, required students to write a poem about the 40 Assets.
Stuart writes: “Board Members joked that they hoped that the Plaintiffs didn’t find out that the 40 Assets were so widely taught in CCSD classrooms and that Asset #19 had been a problem with parents before.”
Barton G. Priever, a parent with a child in the District, filed an affidavit noting that the District could not back up its claims of studies proving the claims of the 40 Development Assets. No research has been published in professional or scientific journals.
The Foundation and its plaintiffs seek an order enjoining the District from adopting, promoting, endorsing, approving and/or publicizing the 40 Developmental Assets.
Read the Third Amended Complaint for FFRF, John Doe, et al. v. Cherry Creek School District and Monte C. Moses, Supt. (pdf)
Assets and Scripture (pdf)
Sept. 8 decision by District Judge Maria S. Krieger (pdf)