Colorado Student Sues Her Old School District for Anti-Atheist Discrimination

Cidney Fisk graduated from the Delta County School District in Colorado in 2016. In just about any other county, she would have been a star student. She had a stellar GPA, was captain of her speech and debate team, student body treasurer, and very vocal about her opinions.

But because she spoke out against Christian proselytizing in the District, she believes she was discriminated against, and a new lawsuit lays out all the details.

CidneyFisk

It helps to recall that this is the same District where a middle school once gave away bibles to children, a decision that led to Satanic coloring books also being distributed (much to the chagrin of local parents). That’s not relevant to this lawsuit, per se, but it gives you an idea of what we’re dealing with here.

Let’s talk about the actual claims in the lawsuit because there are so many jaw droppers in it. I know the following list is long, but I would encourage you to read all of it. You have to understand just how expansive these problems were, and how many adults were allegedly conspiring against her.

  • Teachers at the school openly discussed their Christian faith and church attendance “during classes.”
  • School Board members did the same thing. In one case, board member Kathy Svenson raised her “Christian” belief that “transgender students should be castrated.”
  • A middle school teacher sponsored bible study classes before the start of the day, “enticing students with donuts” to attend sessions. (The Freedom From Religion Foundation later put a stop to that.)
  • When Fisk spoke out against a proposed “personhood” amendment that would have treated fetuses as humans, making abortions more difficult to obtain, one of her teachers reprimanded her publicly for wearing a shirt urging people to vote “No.” He added, “God gives babies life and abortion is murder.”
  • That same teacher, along with Fisk’s guidance counselor, had a private meeting with her months later where they criticized her “attitude.” They showed her a picture she had posted on a private Instagram account in which she said she wasn’t a fan of the school. The counselor added that if Fisk’s attitude didn’t change, she “would hate to ruin her position in student government” and “ruin her grant opportunities.” The counselor also threatened to revoke letters of recommendation for college.
  • When Fisk tried to begin a Secular Student Alliance group, but had trouble finding a faculty sponsor, her government teacher told her the club “did not line up with community and School values.”
  • When the District invited a Christian abstinence-only speaker, Shelly Donahue, to give a talk, Fisk alerted her school’s administrators ahead of time of Donahue’s faith-based, evidence-free reputation. She was told the speeches — one to male students, the other to females — would not be religious, that if it was religious it wouldn’t hurt anybody, and she should basically get over it. After the presentations were made — full of religion, as expected — Fisk wrote an article for the school paper criticizing what Donahue said.
  • Another religious speaker, Chad Williams, was invited to speak to students in March of Fisk’s senior year. While Williams had written a memoir about his time as a soldier and why Jesus was great, he was invited to speak about the problems of drug use, a topic he had no qualifications for. Fisk asked him about his lack of qualifications in class… and was then reprimanded by her teacher.
  • At this time, the Bible distribution story hit the local press and Fisk was publicly identified as an atheist. Students made death threats against Fisk on Facebook pages. When she and her parents told the District about this, they did “nothing at all in response.”
  • Just before Spring Break that year, Fisk’s grade in her government class dropped from a near-perfect 98%…. to 70%. This wasn’t based on any exam or paper. When Fisk asked for an explanation, her teacher and principal told her in private the newspaper article was part of the reason. They also cited her “questioning of authority,” particularly religious authority. She was “stirring the pot,” they added.
  • After more complaints from Fisk and her parents, her grades were changed from F’s to D’s.
  • As a writer for the school paper, she wrote an issue dedicated to religious issues. But an administrator asked the staff (menacingly, it’s implied) if they really wanted to publish that. Fisk believes the faculty sponsor for the paper was also pressured to prevent release of that issue.
  • Even though officers of the Student Council traditionally gave speeches at graduation,” the principal blocked her from delivering one.
  • Even though Fisk qualified for National Honor Society every year, based on her GPA, the school rejected her application every year due to her “attitude,” depriving her of listing the organization on her college applications. Fisk believes students with lower GPAs and qualifications were admitted to the Honor Society.
  • When a representative of a scholarship organization came to Fisk’s school and spoke with her, he took a liking to her and promised to personally “flag her application” for special notice. She also applied for another full-ride scholarship given to students based on ACT score and family income (she qualified in both areas). Despite all that, she didn’t get either scholarship. Furthermore, she didn’t make it into the finals or semi-finals in the running for those scholarships. It’s worth mentioning that all applications went through her guidance counselor. Fisk believes her applications for both scholarships weren’t even submitted by the adults in the school.
  • When Fisk applied for college, the common application required recommendations from her counselors. Three days before the application deadline, they had not submitted anything for Fisk. It was only, she believes, after constant pestering by herself and her parents that they submitted anything. And those recommendations, Fisk believes, were negative. She was rejected from two schools that were among her top choices.

After all that, the lawsuit notes, Fisk suffered anxiety attacks “that required medical treatments, including hospitalization, and required psychological attention.” The backlash she received from students and adults at her school led to “great and prolonged stress and anxiety, great emotional and psychological pain and distress, depression, temporary and permanent psychological injury, lost and diminished enjoyment of life, expenses for past, current and future medical and psychological treatments, lost opportunity to attend the higher education institutions of her choice, lost future income, and other injuries.”

That’s why she’s suing.

Blogger Anne Landman first wrote about many of these incidents on her site. Her organization, the Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers, even raised money for a college fundraiser for Fisk, eventually giving her a check for more than $4,000.

That’s a wonderful silver lining to an otherwise horrifying story of what happens when an outspoken atheist, who seems to understand the law better than the people getting a salary to educate her, doesn’t stay silent.

The school district hasn’t said anything publicly about the lawsuit, as is standard, but I hope a judge takes a good long look at all these allegations. If true, it’s not that hard to connect the dots.

The school should’ve been thanking Fisk for years for her contributions to the student body and for warning them against possible legal violations. They didn’t do that. They didn’t even apologize to her. Instead, they may have sabotaged her at every opportunity.

If that’s the case, it’s about time the District paid the price for it.

(Screenshot via YouTube. Thanks to Brian and Jeff for the link)

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