The following comes from a Sept. 24 email sent by the Pacific Justice Institute.
Attorneys with the Pacific Justice Institute sent a warning letter late yesterday to officials with the Bakersfield City School District, urging them to retract a bulletin which seeks to restrict religious speech by teachers even when they are not working.
The advisory bulletin, dated September 19 and addressed to principals in the district, claims that teachers cannot participate in tomorrow’s annual See You At The Pole events. For the past several years, students across America have gathered around their schools’ flagpoles before school begins on the fourth Wednesday in September to pray for their fellow students, their campuses and the nation.
Locally, the pole events tend to be loosely organized and open to the general public. Pacific Justice’s letter to the school district reminds the district that teachers do not lose their rights to act as citizens and exercise their First Amendment freedoms, when they are off the clock.
“Sometimes the government gets so hypersensitive about separation of church and state that it loses sight of the actual text of the First Amendment, including freedom of speech and free exercise of religion,” stated Brad Dacus, the president of Pacific Justice. “We need to restore that balance, and our letter aims to do just that.”
The letter, penned by Pacific Justice staff attorney Matthew McReynolds, notes that the institute is willing to represent any teachers faced with adverse employment action for participating in See You At The Pole, while also being willing to represent the school district and other school districts that choose to honor teachers’ First Amendment rights, against any challenges from extreme church-state separation groups.
“Teachers are natural community leaders and civic participants,” noted McReynolds. “If anything, we should be encouraging and not censoring active, engaged citizens who simply want the best for their communities and schools.”