Settlement ousts Cowboy Church from Colorado school

A Colorado teacher in the Fremont RE-2 School District has favorably settled his case against the district, which has long drawn the ire of the Freedom From Religion Foundation for unconstitutional insertion of religion into school activities.

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel had sent the district four letters since February 2013 about numerous state/church violations. Many violations stemmed from the district’s close relationship with the Cowboy Church at Crossroads, which rented space in the district’s high school on Sundays. Pastor Randy Pfaff was a regular presence in the school and was known to students as “Pastor Randy.”

Pfaff held a weekly pizza lunch at Florence High School, requiring students to pray in order to participate, and ran the school’s Fellowship of Christian Huskies club, in violation of the Equal Access Act’s requirements that school clubs be “student-initiated” and not run or regularly attended by “nonschool persons.” The district also permitted Pfaff and other Cowboy Church attendees to initiate a daily prayer at the school flagpole, which Principal Brian Schipper and other staff members also attended.

Plaintiff Robert Basevitz filed suit in April over many of the same issues FFRF had raised. Basevitz also said students had singled him out for being Jewish. His complaint called the Fellowship of Christian Huskies a “front designed to allow Pastor Pfaff and the church to use the school as a platform for his ‘mission work’ of preaching to students and staff,” and pointed out that the group was sponsored by the school as well. The school district allowed Pfaff to hold a bible distribution masquerading as a “scholarship night” for seniors and put on a Christian concert during the school day.

Upon learning the suit had been filed, Seidel contacted Paul Maxon, Basevitz’s attorney, and offered FFRF’s assistance, including the information, facts, and plaintiffs FFRF had accumulated with the aim of filing its own lawsuit.

The parties settled the case July 28. Under the agreement, school district employees cannot engage in religious activities with their students, sponsor prayer, sponsor religious activities, endorse religious groups or distribute religious literature. In addition, student-led religious groups must be genuinely student-led, and outside adults cannot direct or regularly attend student group activities.

Seidel, who consulted on the settlement, welcomed the news that the Cowboy Church at Crossroads will no longer use district facilities for its worship services, and in the future, the district will prohibit use of its facilities “by an group that impairs the district’s ability to carry out its educational mission, including groups that create a reasonable risk of liability for violation of constitutional mandates.”

“Andrew Seidel and the Freedom from Religion Foundation were instrumental in helping us successfully prosecute this case and secure removal of a church from a public school,” said Paul Maxon, the attorney who brought the case. “Because of the complex nature of Establishment Clause law, being able to access the expertise of FFRF’s lawyers was invaluable in our efforts to properly frame the issues in this case.”

FFRF is a nonprofit state/church watchdog with more than 22,500 members nationwide, including nearly 700 in Colorado.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

Send this to a friend