A school district in California says it will allow students to distribute coins with imprinted Bible passages during non-instructional time on campus. The decision from the district came after Freedom X, a legal group, complained on behalf of a local family.
A spokesperson for the Apple Valley Unified School District near Hesperia, Calif., said Monday that teachers at Desert Knolls Elementary School violated the religious freedom rights of Steven and Patrick Peterson when they told the students that they could not pass out fake coins with the Bible verse John 3:16 written on one side and the question "Where will you spend eternity?" written on the other.
"We're going to make sure that students are protected," Thomas Hoegerman, superintendent of the Apple Valley Unified School District, told the San Bernardino Sun. "There was no malicious intent but we clearly had folks who didn't fully understand the implications."
Allen and Kelly Peterson contacted Freedom X, a legal group dedicated to defending Christian freedoms, after learning that their boys, Steven and Patrick, had been prevented from passing out their coins on campus. The students had been passing out the small religious tokens during non-instructional time for about a year until two recent incidents in January and February, when teachers told the boys that they could no longer distribute the coins on campus.
One teacher reportedly said she "hated" the coins while the other told the boys' parents that distributing religious materials on campus was against school code.
Freedom X then contacted the school district, arguing that the boys' religious freedoms had been violated. The legal group demanded a formal apology, adding that the district should continue to allow the boys to distribute their coins. The letter to the district from the legal group said that "the peculiar impulse of educators to treat Christian children like pariahs is reflexively intolerant, yet the type of religious discrimination witnessed at Desert Knolls is regrettably becoming commonplace."
Bill Becker, president of Freedom X, said in a statement to the San Bernardino Sun that his legal group is confident the teachers will now be "very careful with the expressive rights of students, particularly when those rights have some religious importance."