Student booted in Bible flap suing school district
Nathan Max
San Diego Union-Tribune
March 31, 2011

EAST COUNTY — A student who claims he was suspended for talking about
Christianity to classmates and banned from bringing his Bible to campus has filed a
federal lawsuit against an East County school district.

An attorney for Kenneth Dominguez, 16, said the Grossmont Union High School
District infringed on his client’s Constitutional rights. However, an attorney
representing the district countered that Dominguez was suspended because of “an
incredible amount of disruptive behavior,” not because of his religious fervor.

The case, which is attracting attention in the Christian community, is taking place in a
district that is run by a board dominated by religious conservatives.

Dominguez is seeking undisclosed damages, attorney’s fees and for his disciplinary
record to be expunged. The lawsuit was filed March 24 in U.S. District Court in San
Diego and claims the school district violated Dominguez’s First, Fourth, Fifth and
14th Amendment rights. Superintendent Ralf Swenson, Principal Randy Reid and
teacher Eugene Andrews are also named in the complaint.

Dominguez, who no longer attends school in the district, was suspended for two days
on Feb. 18, 2010 while at Gateway East Community Day School, a continuation
school for students who have been expelled from their traditional campus, are on
probation or have been habitual truants. Gateway East, in downtown El Cajon, has
34 students, two teachers and two classrooms, district spokeswoman Catherine
Martin said. It is smaller than a 7-Eleven.

The lawsuit contends Dominguez was told he could not talk about his faith at school
because of the separation of church and state and was suspended after failing to
comply.

A suspension document from the school states: “Student was told to stop preaching
at school. Student continued after being warned several times.” It goes on to say:
“Student will not bring Bible to school.”

“We have no record of any students saying he was insulting, degrading or mean,”
said Brad Dacus, president of the Sacramento-based Pacific Justice Institute, a firm
that specializes in religious freedom cases and is representing Dominguez. “This is
like something we would have heard of happening in the former Soviet Union or Mao
Zedong’s China 40 years ago. The fact that it has happened in the United States, in
a school district that has refused to admit any wrongdoing, is deplorable.”

David Blair-Loy, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, said if the facts
are as Dominguez claims, “it looks like a very serious free speech violation.”

The school district presented an entirely different side of the story.

Dan Shinoff, an attorney representing Grossmont Union, said Dominguez has a
record of disruptive behavior, that he was interrupting class and that the school
district is committed to upholding the religious freedoms of all its students. Shinoff
also said that Dominguez was never prohibited from bringing his Bible to school.

“This issue has nothing to do with this young man’s religious viewpoints,” Shinoff
said. “There is absolute respect by the board, the Superintendent, the principal and
the teacher for the freedom of religion that is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
The disconnect appears to be one of whether the school ensures learning occurs in
a non-disruptive environment.

“The evidence suggests there was an incredible amount of disruptive behavior.”

According to the 1969 U.S. Supreme Court decision Tinker vs. Des Moines
Independent Community School District, school officials cannot punish students for
exercising their freedom of speech unless they can show it was disruptive, said
Michael W. McConnell, the director of Stanford University’s Constitutional Law Center.

McConnell, a Stanford Law School professor and former judge on the federal 10th
Circuit Court of Appeals from 2002 to 2009, said the case sounds like a factual
dispute. However, he added, “I don’t see what the legitimate basis could be for not
letting him bring his Bible.”

McConnell said for a school to deny a student from bringing a book to campus,
whether it be the Bible or any other piece of literature, it would need “strong
justification.”

An extreme circumstance would be if a student had a mental disorder in which he or
she had a compulsion to read the book out loud and disrupted other students. In that
case, McConnell said, the best solution could be to prevent the student from bringing
the book to school.
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