It’s not often that I agree with the Liberty Institute, a Christian right legal group, but they’re right about this case in Nevada, where a school told a 6th grade girl that she could not include a Bible verse in a presentation to her classmates entitled “All about me.”
When Mackenzie Fraiser’s technology teacher assigned the class a PowerPoint project called “All About Me” in February, the Somerset Academy sixth-grader wanted to include a slide with one of her favorite Bible verses, John 3:16.
The teacher at the public charter school in North Las Vegas said no.
Jeremy Dys, senior counsel for the Texas-based Liberty Institute, a religious rights law firm, joined the Fraiser family Wednesday afternoon to tell the story in front of the federal courthouse.
The North Las Vegas family is demanding an apology from the school and said they will seek legal relief if they don’t get it.
Mackenzie is proud of her Christian faith, and her father, Tim Fraiser, 37, is a pastor at Grace Point Church, a nondenominational Christian church. It made sense to her to include a quote about God’s love for the world in a presentation about herself.
But the technology teacher at Somerset disagreed. When the teacher saw Mackenzie had included the verse, she told the girl to take it out…
Fraiser said he was shocked when his daughter told him she shouldn’t because she’s not allowed to talk about God at school. He emailed the school to find out why his daughter was instructed she wasn’t allowed to use “Biblical sayings” in assignments.
“Can you please explain if this is true? Perhaps, she misunderstood you? Since I am certain you understand that this clearly infringes on my daughters/your students right to freedom of speech, I want to make sure we understand your instructions,” he wrote on April 29.
Two days later he received a response from Assistant Principal Jenyan Martinez.
“When Mackenzie created the project with the expectation she would present the Biblical saying to the class, the matter became one of having a captive audience that would be subject to her religious beliefs. Had the assignment been designed to simply hand in for a grade, this would not have been an issue. Therefore, considering the circumstances of the assignment, Miss Jardine appropriately followed school law expectations by asking Mackenzie to choose an alternate quote for the presentation,” Martinez wrote.
As a legal matter, this is just plain wrong. If you’re going to give a student an assignment to talk about themselves, you can’t then tell them that they can talk about anything they want other than their religious beliefs. The captive audience argument is legally irrelevant. I know of no case ever that has said anything like that when it involves a classroom assignment. The school says they’re investigating it now and they should apologize and allow her to do the assignment they way she wants.