Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Frivolous Lawsuits

Dear Wilson County School Board,

I just have one question about this recent lawsuit you lost: Do you folks not have a lawyer you could consult before making bone-headed decisions over school posters which result in expensive, made-for-primetime, totally manufactured legal battles??


For my readers who live out of state, a school system outside of Nashville recently lost a lawsuit over posters for an extra-curricular school prayer event called Meet Me At The Pole. The posters contained the word “God” and some Bible verses and the school, fresh off a loss over another religion-related lawsuit brought by the ACLU, was being overly-cautious. The school said the posters were a no, the parents sued, the school lost.

The suit was brought by the Alliance Defense Fund, a sort of right-wing Christian ACLU founded by Donald Wildmon, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, and the late Jerry Falwell and James Kennedy, among others. They are funded by the usual suspects, such as the DeVos Family.

The ADF’s entire raison d’etre is to search the country for potential lawsuits involving separation of church and state issues in which they hope to reassert religion’s place in the public square. They are, in short, the Christian world’s “answer” to the ACLU.

Fine, more power to them. But here’s the thing: this strikes me as a legal vendetta completely manufactured by a well-funded out of state group with a specific agenda, a group of parents pissed off over losing their last case against the school board, and a school board director who frankly should have known better than to get dragged into the courts by these characters. I just have to wonder if there couldn’t have been a better, less expensive way to resolve the issue.

Some background: In 2006 the “Praying Parents” group lost a lawsuit over coercive religious activity they conducted at Lakewood Elementary School. Three years later, those same parents pushed the issue again.
Administrators at the Lakeview Elementary School testified in federal court Monday that they were walking a thin line when parents brought in posters last September advertising with Bible verses and references to God.


According to school officials, the parents took paper provided by the school and covered up the religious language.

The assistant principal testified that she believed the parents were going to make new signs without the language she was concerned about, not alter the old signs.

Yes, but you were wrong. Because you thought the issue was about posters advertising an extra-curricular prayer event, which is completely acceptable and not constitutionally suspect. What you didn’t realize was that this was not about posters. This was about winning lawsuits. This was about scoring a victory for the Alliance Defense Fund so it could have good news for its fundraising letters.

Bertie Alligood, assistant principal at Lakeview Elementary, said she told parents who brought posters to hang in the school that she "had concerns" about the content, which Alligood described as Bible verses. She was new to the school and the principal was out of town, so she called the director of schools for an opinion.

"I knew we'd been involved in another lawsuit, and I knew it cost the school system a lot of money, so I wanted to be very careful," Alligood said.

Alligood said she conferred with schools director Robert "Mike" Davis by cell phone, and he told her that posters with anything more than date, time, location and name of the event was not approved.

I have a lot of sympathy for Mike Davis and others in his position. He isn’t a constitutional law expert, and he was asked to make a decision on the fly by a new employee who rightfully had concerns, in light of the school’s previous legal battles.

Here’s the thing that Bertie Alligood and Mike Davis need to realize: you were set up. And other schools directors and school principals around the country are going to be set up in the same manner. That’s why they call this a culture “war,” you know? Well-funded Christian groups like the ADF are just looking for opportunities to score victories, even silly ones like this. And it’s going to cost you and your schools money.

So here’s a suggestion. Next time parents dangle a carrot in front of your nose, even something that looks as benign as a school poster, please check with a lawyer before stepping in the flaming pile of legal poo that they have left on your doorstep. You will save yourself a lot of money in the long run.