In a victory for religious freedom, the Washington Elementary School District in Arizona settled a discrimination lawsuit with Arizona Christian University (ACU) and reversed their decision to terminate an 11-year student-teacher partnership. The settlement includes restoring the contract with ACU and paying $25,000 in legal fees.
The school board initially voted unanimously to terminate their contract with ACU, citing concerns over creating a safe environment for LGBTQ+ students, staff, and the community. These concerns were raised due to ACU’s commitment to Christian values, as stated on its website, which emphasizes the importance of marriage between one man and one woman.
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However, the termination of this partnership had little to do with the student teachers themselves. Over the past 11 years, Washington Elementary has had 25 student teachers from ACU, all of whom agreed to abide by the district’s non-discrimination policies. Moreover, the district has hired 17 ACU graduates in the past, indicating a positive track record of their student teachers.
The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), representing ACU in the lawsuit, claimed the school board exhibited “blatant hostility” towards the university’s beliefs. ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of U.S. Litigation David Cortman stated, “By discriminating against Arizona Christian University and denying it an opportunity to participate in the student-teacher program because of its religious status and beliefs, the school district was in blatant violation of the U.S. Constitution, not to mention state law that protects ACU’s religious freedom.”
ACU President Len Munsil celebrated the settlement as a victory against religious discrimination, saying, “We obtained everything we wanted in this new agreement, without any sacrifice or compromise to our beliefs and our university’s religious purpose.” On the other hand, the school district’s response was more subdued. Board president Nikkie Gomez-Whaley stated, “We are pleased that the case against the WESD has been dismissed.”
The lawsuit’s settlement serves as a reminder of the importance of upholding religious freedom and the consequences of discrimination. In addition, the school board’s decision to reverse its stance and reinstate the partnership with ACU demonstrates a willingness to prioritize the needs of its students and the community.
This case highlights the significance of focusing on the merits and performance of student teachers rather than letting personal anti-religious biases taint policy decisions. Ultimately, the Washington Elementary School District’s reversal and the settlement of this lawsuit represent a triumph for religious freedom and a valuable lesson in respecting the rights and beliefs of all community members.