Author: ADF Litigation Staff Counsel David J. Hacker
Kudos to our friends at Pacific Justice Institute and its affiliate attorneys who recently settled a student prayer case against Peralta Community College District in Alameda, California. According to PJI, the College of Alameda (a campus in the District) punished two students for praying with a sick instructor. Here are the basic facts:
The incident that ignited the case happened in December 2007 when an instructor at the College of Alameda complained about a private, consensual prayer in a shared faculty office between a student and a sick teacher. The administration swiftly reacted by issuing formal notices of intent to suspend both the student and a fellow bystander student, holding disciplinary hearings, and imposing written warnings.
The students filed suit, and the College moved to dismiss the case.
[The College argued] that prayer is akin to protests or demonstrations and presumptively disruptive. But federal district court judge Susan Illston disagreed, ruling that prayer is protected speech under the First Amendment. After the students appeared on Fox News in April 2009, the College also asked the court to censor the students from disclosing information about their case. The court refused. After these rulings the College eventually agreed to back down and also pay attorney's fees after two years of litigation.
Among other points, the settlement contains an express acknowledgment that prayer on campus is protected free speech and free exercise of religion.
I find it most interesting that the College not only punished the students for their on campus prayer, but also that during the litigation it sought to further silence them in the media. The ruling requires the College to protect student prayer on campus and to pay $90,000 of the students attorneys' fees. Censorship carries a heafty price tag.
This post originally appeared here.