School district facing 2nd claim of free speech violations

(Video screenshot)

For the second time in just days, a lawsuit has been filed against officials in the Grants Pass, Oregon, school district for allegedly trying to cut off a staff member’s First Amendment speech rights.

In this case, also brought by the Pacific Justice Institute, officials are accused of injuring middle school teacher Ryan Clark.

A faculty member at South Middle School, PJI reported, Clark is a devout Christian “who spends many of his off hours engaging in open-air evangelism at various events and locations.”

“Clark believes that to convince those who hear his message to repent and believe the gospel, he needs to warn them about sin and its eternal consequences,” PJI reported.

That takes him directly into the buzz saw of agenda-driven requirements that today’s society has for those who believe, and speak out, on the biblical views of marriage, gender and sexuality, the PJI said.

“Fellow teachers attending events where Clark has preached have taken offense to the views he has publicly expressed and reported him to his school’s principal in hopes of getting him fired,” the legal team said. “Following an investigation into Clark’s conduct, the principal absolved Clark of any wrongdoing. Oregon’s Teacher Standards and Practices Commission, in fact, found insufficient cause to charge him with professional misconduct.

“Still, despite acknowledging that Clark did not check his First Amendment-protected freedoms of speech and religion at the schoolhouse gate by virtue of accepting employment as a teacher with GPSD, district officials saw fit to try and restrict Clark’s exercise of those freedoms: district officials forbade Clark from preaching about sin’s eternal consequences, calling his speech ‘hateful’ and accusing him of ‘invoking feelings of insecurity and fear.'”

The school also banned him from speaking at any youth gatherings in the district, which would prohibit him from teaching Sunday School classes or working with his church’s youth group.

“First Amendment jurisprudence is clear: Public-school teachers are as free as any other citizen to speak their minds about issues of public concern, including issues of public morality,” said Ray Hacke, PJI’s Oregon-based pro-bono attorney.

“First Amendment jurisprudence is also clear that government officials cannot show hostility toward religious viewpoints concerning marriage, gender, and sexuality. That’s exactly what GPSD did – they even put it in writing.”

Hacke has on his side the opinion from the Supreme Court, where in Masterpiece Cakeshop Justice Anthony Kennedy chastised the radically left Colorado Civil Rights Commission for demonizing people who hold biblical views.

“Hacke also noted that in Obergefell v. Hodges – the case that made same-sex marriage legal nationwide – Justice Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion that ‘many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong do so based on decent and honorable religious and philosophical premises,'” PJI said.

Brad Dacus, chief of the organization, said school officials have no right to restrict the teacher’s speech even if his views are unpopular.

WND previously reported PJI took action against the same district for two teachers who proposed a policy to their district to address the complex issues when students struggle with gender identity.

The teachers, Rachel Damiano and Katie Medart, were placed on administrative leave by the district. They had started a grassroots organization called “I Resolve” to address education policies on gender-identity disputes, and to offer solutions that would let teachers continue teaching without violating their consciences and honoring parental rights.

“The Supreme Court has made clear that educators don’t check their freedom of speech at the schoolhouse gate when they accept employment with public school districts – they have as much right to speak out against district policies they consider harmful as any other citizen. The school district erred egregiously here in punishing Rachel and Katie for daring to take the stand they did,” Hacke explained in that case.

Egregiously, the two had consulted with school officials in preparing their proposal and Kirk Kolb, the superintendent, even indicated he’d bring it up to the board members, who are defendants along with him, Principal Thomas Blanchard and the district.

But when they promoted their ideas in a video that they created on their own, the two teachers were put on leave “pending an investigation.”

They were told that five other school workers had complained that their Christian beliefs were “anti-transgender” and therefore unacceptable.

The district’s decision to publicize the dispute led to threats against the two teachers. But Kolb failed to reveal that he had met with the women during the development of I Resolve, and provided feedback on a draft proposal.

The case seeks a court order returning the teachers to their jobs, a determination that such school censorship is illegal, and compensatory damages.

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This article was originally published by the WND News Center.

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