A California school district has canceled altogether a memorial brick paver fundraising program after religious controversy ensued regarding the choice of messages (in this case, Bible verses) that could be displayed on the bricks.
“Buy a brick, inscribe a message” was the context of the fundraiser created by the PDHS Parent-Teacher Organization, which was approved by the Palm Desert High School and Desert Sands Unified School District.
No restrictions were placed on the content of the messages, other than the length, and the fundraiser policy stated the messages could be used to pay tribute, create a legacy, commemorate a special event, or give recognition to various entities, according to a statement released by the Alliance Defense Fund.
The pavers would be displayed along the walkways at Palm Desert High School.
When Lou Ann Hart and Sheryl Caronna submitted requests and contributed several hundred dollars to purchase brick pavers engraved with Bible verses, however, they were rejected and told that their messages would cause “an unconstitutional establishment of religion.”
But it was only after all of the bricks were made – and before they were installed on the new campus – that the women were notified of their denied submission.
Former principal Pat Walsh had told Hart and Caronna that due to the separation of church and state their bricks would not be installed at the new school.
“There is absolutely nothing unconstitutional about a Bible verse on a brick when a school opens up a program for anyone to express a personal message,” ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman stated.
“Christians should be allowed to express themselves on public school campuses just like everyone else.”
The denied bricks had messages that stated, “Tell everyone about God’s power, Psalm 68:34” and “‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart & lean not on your own understanding’ Proverbs 3:5 The Caronna Family.”
Other messages that expressed similar religious or inspirational messages were accepted, including a Hindu quote from Mahatma Gandhi and a Bible verse written in Spanish that read “Si se puede” followed by “Phil. 4:13.”
On behalf of the two Christian women, ADF sued district officials in January and finally reached a settlement in June.
As a direct result of the lawsuit, the Desert Sands Unified School District decided to cancel the entire fundraising program and refund all of the purchases made by community groups or individuals.
“It is cowardly to shut down everyone’s participation in this program simply out of animosity toward Christian speech,” Cortman added. “The school could simply have allowed the Bible verses, but instead, it chose to punish everyone.”
The school district also agreed that if they decided to reopen the brick paver fundraiser within the next two years at any district school, they would provide a copy of the guidelines needed to approve inscribed brick pavers.
Attorney fees and costs were paid for by the school district as well.
The Alliance Defense Fund is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations that launched in 1994, defending the right of people to freely live out their faith.