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ADF lawsuit results in protection for student religious expression at L.A. school district

ADF attorneys secure settlement for 5th-grader initially banned from performing to ‘offensive’ Christian song in talent show
Related Case:
B.H. v. Garcia

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Unified School District has agreed to change a policy that initially prevented a 5th-grade student afflicted with cerebral palsy from performing to a Christian song as part of a talent show in February. The district allowed the student to perform just hours after ADF attorneys filed a motion asking a federal court to make that happen last month, but the lawsuit moved forward anyway to make sure that the underlying unconstitutional district policy was changed.

“Christian students shouldn’t be censored at public schools just because district officials consider religious speech to be offensive,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman. “The school district is doing the right thing by changing its policy to protect students’ constitutionally protected rights so that censorship of religious speech no longer occurs during student activities.”

Daniel R. Watkins of Newport Beach, one of nearly 1,900 attorneys in the ADF alliance, is serving as local counsel in the case.

The school district agreed in the settlement to revise its District Bulletin to read that “Student speakers at student assemblies and extracurricular activities such as sporting events or talent shows may not be selected on a basis that either favors or disfavors religious speech.”

Superior Street Elementary School Principal Jerilyn Schubert told the student’s mother in January that the song “We Shine” was “offensive.” Schubert inaccurately claimed that it violated the so-called “separation of church and state” and then suggested to the mother that her child choose a song that “does not say ‘Jesus’ so many times.”

Prior to the lawsuit, officials approved the following songs for the show:  “Freak the Freak Out,” focusing on relationship problems, “Shake It Up,” with the theme of dancing and celebrating, and “Eye of the Tiger,” with lyrics stating that “we kill with the skill to survive.” Many parents, students, and community members attended the evening talent show, though student attendance was not required.

In light of the settlement, ADF attorneys filed a voluntary dismissal of the lawsuit, B.H. v. Garcia, on Monday with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Western Division, Los Angeles.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.

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David Cortman
David A. Cortman
Senior Counsel, Vice President of U.S. Litigation
David A. Cortman serves as senior counsel and vice president of U.S. litigation with Alliance Defending Freedom.