The Freedom From Religion Foundation, the nation's largest association of atheists and agnostics, is suing 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 in early October, 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 warning 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."
The Foundation's legal complaint notes: "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.' "
The Foundation legal complaint says 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 Foundation alleges that these activities:
- "Show favoritism toward religion and religious institutions;
- "Create an excessive entanglement with religion;
- "Have the principal effect of advancing religion;
- "Have no valid secular purpose;
- "Turn plaintiffs into outsiders based solely on religion;
- "Place the Cherry Creek District's imprimatur upon religious institutions which teach dogma with which Plaintiffs disagree;
- "Spend Plaintiffs' tax dollars in promoting religious institutions with which Plaintiffs disagree, and
- "Promote the idea that attendance at religious institutions is essential to good citizenship, an idea which is offensive to Plaintiffs."
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.