Calif. Teachers Reprimand Students' Bible Verse Coins; Legal Group Demands Apology

An empty classroom is seen in this undated file photo. | (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

A religious freedom law firm is demanding an apology from a California school district on behalf of two students who were reportedly told by teachers that they couldn't pass out "coins" with inscribed biblical messages while at school.

Freedom X, a nonprofit law firm that seeks to protect the religious rights of Christians and conservatives, sent a letter to the Apple Valley Unified School District earlier in March demanding that the district apologize to its clients, the Peterson family, for reprimanding students Steven and Patrick after the two boys passed out the coins at school.

Steven, a third grader, and Patrick, a fourth grader, are two of five children of Allen and Kelly Peterson, who retained the Freedom X law firm after learning their sons had been reprimanded by teachers at Desert Knolls Elementary School. One side of the fake coin reads the Bible verse John 3:16, while the other side reads: "Where will you spend eternity?"

The Peterson boys reportedly spent the past year and a half distributing the coins to students during recess or other non-instructional times. As Freedom X states in its letter to the school district, one recent incident in January involved a teacher telling at one of the boys that she "hated" the coins and telling him not to bring them on campus anymore. In another incident in February, a different teacher took the coins from a Peterson boy and sent him home with a note saying the messages were against the state's educational code.

When the boys' parents tried contacting school officials on the issue, they were told by the school principal that the coins were not allowed on campus.

The letter from Freedom X demands that the district issue a formal apology to the Peterson family for "the improper conduct of its teachers," adding "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."

Attorney William Becker, Jr., the chief executive officer of Freedom X, told CBS Los Angeles that public school teachers must abide by state law regarding religious freedom. "Public school teachers in this day and age can't play dumb anymore," said Becker. "They know the law prevents religious discrimination, yet they can't help but act on their bigoted instincts. That has to stop."

Freedom X is demanding that the school issue a formal apology and allow the Peterson boys to continue distributing their coins. "Unless we are satisfied a sufficient apology has been made and the teachers have been duly instructed, we will not hesitate to initiate legal action to vindicate the Peterson boys' constitutional rights," the letter to the district concludes.

According to the San Bernadino Sun, Apple Valley school officials reportedly launched an investigation into the incident shortly after receiving the letter, but it is unclear if the district has responded to the legal group's demands.

Kelly Peterson, the boy's mother, told the San Bernadino Sun that her family doesn't want any money from the school district. Rather, they simply want "the kids to know they've done nothing wrong."

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