Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Judge: Plaintiff in lawsuit against C. J. Huff does not have to reveal her name

Judge Douglas Harpool ruled today that the plaintiff in a First Amendment lawsuit against Joplin R-8 Superintendent C. J. Huff and North Middle School Principal Brandon Eggleston can maintain  anonymity.

"Parties are ordered not to use plaintiff's real names in pleadings," Harpool wrote, agreeing with Jane Doe's attorney's argument that she and her children "would suffer harassment if their identities were publicized."

In the lawsuit filed, which was filed May 27  in U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri the plaintiffs, Jane Doe alleges that Huff and Eggleston violated students' First Amendment rights by forcing religion on children during a field trip.

In a brief, the attorney for Jane Doe claimed that lawsuits of this nature, involving religious matters, often end up causing problems for those file them, and says that the plaintiffs could be subjected to "retaliatory physical and mental harm." Doe filed the lawsuit on behalf of her children, one in middle school, and the other in elementary school.

The lawsuit claims the older child was "exposed to defendants' promotion and endorsement of religion" and "felt coerced by the school to participate in religious activity and has been made to feel like an outsider and unwelcome in the school district." The younger child will be a student at North, the lawsuit says, and the parent does not want any further such activity to be sponsored by the district.

The situation that brought about the lawsuit was explained as follows:

On or about May 8, 2015, a class field trip of students from North Middle was taken, during regular school hours, to a facility owned and operated by a Christian ministry. The facility in question is known as Victory Ministries and Sports Complex, and is located in Joplin, Missouri.

Victory Ministries and Sports Complex (hereinafter “Victory”) is a Christian facility that operates for three stated purposes that are expressed on its web site: “Exalt Jesus,” and “Expand the Kingdom of God,” and “Equip the Body of Christ.” 

The same web page states Victory’s goals, which include: “Keep Jesus central in everything we do,” and “Have God-honoring entertainment,” and other religious goals. Christian imagery is prominent at the Victory facility. Most, if not all signs that include the “Victory” name at the facility utilize a Christian cross as the “t” in the word “Victory.” 

A large banner that exalts Jesus is visible at the Victory gym. The banner, which states “Jesus is worthy of it all!” is placed high on the wall of the gym, above approximately ten other banners, many of which also contain religious messages. One banner, for example, reads “ Worship” whereas another states: “Hope. The confident expectation that what God has promised is true.”

Prior to the field trip, permission slips were sent home to parents for the school field trip to Victory. Doechild I was given a permission slip for Plaintiff Jane Doe to sign. The permission slip for parents to sign in order to allow students to attend the field trip expressly stated that parents understand that their children may be invited to Bible studies and local churches while at Victory. The same permission slip, in paragraph number 6, required parents to allow their child to participate in “worship services, Bible studies or any other activities that may pertain to the Christian faith.” 

 On May 5, 2015, an email was sent by American Humanist Association (“AHA”), a Washington, D.C. nonprofit organization, to Defendants Huff and Eggleston warning them that a North Middle School parent had raised concerns about the planned field trip and pointing out that the trip would violate the Establishment Clause. That same day, Defendant Huff responded to AHA’s email with an email of his own denying that the trip violated the Establishment Clause but admitting that the permission slip was inappropriately worded. 

Also that same day, in response to Defendant Huff’s email, the AHA sent a second email to Defendants, drawing specific attention to the religious nature of the Victory operation and warning that the field trip would result in litigation. 

Defendants did not respond to said email, and in fact, the trip was conducted on or about May 8.  Doechild I did not participate in the field trip, which was conducted during an ordinary school day. Plaintiff Jane Doe, faced with the choice of an unconstitutional field trip or no school for her child for the day, kept Doechild I out of school. As such, Doechild I was denied a full day of academics due to Defendants’ actions. If Doechild I had participated in the field trip, Doechild I would have been exposed to Christian messages that directly contradict the religious beliefs of Plaintiff Jane Doe and Doechild I.

The field trip has given the impression to a reasonable observer that the public school endorses Christianity. Doechild I was put in the position of having to choose to attend a religious school-sponsored event or forgo participation entirely. Public school resources, including paid personnel time and other resources, which were paid for by tax monies, were expended in planning and conducting the field trip to Victory.

The lawsuit asks for a permanent injunction against any further trips to Victory Sports Complex or any other religious-based venues, a judgement that Huff and Eggleston have violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and damages and punitive damages against Huff and Eggleston for violating the children's constitutional rights.

The attorneys for the plaintiffs are Arthur Benson & Associates of Kansas City.


Anonymous said...

They will find her. They will reveal her name. They will find a way.

Anonymous said...

And they will lie and say someone else revealed the name. I hope this lawsuit is against the two individuals and not the school district and, if so, I hope they win about $277,000 dollars from Huff.

Anonymous said...

Revealing the name of the plaintiff (and by extension the children) will have a seriously negative effect on the defendants and the R-8 Recalcitrant Religionistas.

National press coverage will be the result.

This would be one of the biggest mistakes they could make.

Anonymous said...

Sad world we live in. The causes people will expel energy toward. All I say is that kid better not miss another day of school, unless sick, for rest of their life. The parent had a perfect teaching moment for their kid but instead showed them that suing is the route to take. Feel bad for the kid.

Anonymous said...

To 8:40 PM:

I'm curious what that perfect teaching moment would have been. Maybe the parent should have said "Jewish child of mine, your beliefs don't matter and you will just need to suck it up and go along if you want to get along."

I'll bet you wouldn't send your child on a field trip to meet with a bunch of Atheists so your child could have a perfect "learning experience."

The law of our land says there is to be separation of church and state. C.J. doesn't get to break the law (at least not this one) just because he chooses to do so.

Anonymous said...

Perfect teaching moment.

Son, these people are talibanglicals. They think their sh*t don't stink and that they can wipe their a$$ with the constitution. They do not understand reason and that's why we can either sue them or bow down to them.

Anonymous said...

Neosho has sent students to the same place. I'm not happy that my child was exposed to the Christian fairytale.

Anonymous said...

I'm a Christian and still believe it is wrong (and illegal) for a public school to ignore the diverse religions and focus merely on Christianity. It is the responsibility of parents to expose their children to whatever faith they choose, it not up to school officials.

Anonymous said...

Teaching point in that - son they may hold different beliefs than we do and their decorations might not suit our tastes, but they have very nice athletic and activity facilities that they are allowing us to use. Just because they hold different beliefs than we do does not mean we cannot associate with them. In life you will be exposed to people from different backgrounds, with different skin colors, with different beliefs and ideals, and it is from these experiences that you will grow as an individual, and gain knowledge of the world around you. You do not have to avoid or dislike someone simply because you have differing beliefs or viewpoints. Part of maturity is using all of these life experiences and knowledge to form your own opinions and beliefs. Did you have fun today with your friends?

Unless the staff at the facility actively preached the gospel to the students while they were there I think this is a ridiculous lawsuit. If this suit is simply based on the facilities mission statement and decor then a judgement in favor of this parent will open school districts up to an endless number of such lawsuits - I am suing because my child was taken on a field trip to a museum because there were slaves depicted and that is racist; because there were guns depicted in photos and that is promoting violence; because American Indians were depicted in a scene with teepees and that is racial sterotyping. . . and on and on and on.

Anonymous said...

The permission slip included Bible study.

Gots ta keep my job (; said...

You make very good points, which shows why this is not an easy, cut and dry situation.

I was there. I am a Christian. I saw no coercion or even suggestion of attempted conversions. The kids and staff had a great time.

So what is the problem. First, history has taught us that if we fail to protect the beliefs of others, our beliefs eventually are threatened, and noone offers us protection. Second, if I or my children choose to visit other cultures or religions, we can certainly benefit from the experience. Choice is key here, Third, politically, I believe homosexuals have just as much right to public displays of affection as anyone else, Personally, I find it offensive. So, I look away...my problem, my choice. If I were forced to attend a gay pride parade as part of my employment, I would have grounds for a lawsuit. Even if I were given options, I would be excluded from the group and subject to shunning. Chidren should not face this situation. Finally, I agree that we live in an overly litigious society. However, civil rights are not frivolous.

Victory is a great place, North is a great school. Still, this situation was avoidable and unadvisable. It wreaks of divisiveness and abuse of power. Sorry Dr. E. You got this one wrong.

I am a robot. said...

Ask your lawyer. You cannot sign away your rights. Most waivers are only as good as the signatory is gullible.

Anonymous said...

What about Battle Of the Sexes? Doesn't that happen at Victory Ministries and Sports Complex?


Anonymous said...


"Dear Applicant,
Thank you so much for your interest in volunteering for our Life Skills Training event
for the teens of Jasper County. Since we are not sure how much you know about this
program, let’s start with a quick overview.
We are planning 5 all-day events during the Spring of 2014 for high school juniors
from the Joplin, Webb City, Carthage and Carl Junction districts. This program is
called Battle of the Sexes and will be a coed event.
These events will be held at Victory Ministries & Sports Complex (formerly known as
The Bridge). The schools will provide the transportation, some of the adult oversight,
and we will provide the rest. Event team members will need to be available from
7:30AM-2:30PM the days of the event that they are registered to volunteer.
During the day the teens will experience great workshops, powerful speakers, high-
energy videos and music, good food, in-depth question and answer time, prizes, and
the opportunity to experience how important they are to this community.
We are looking for community members to take time out of their lives and share it with
these teens from our communities. There are two areas where you can volunteer; we
will need around 10 people, per event, to be The Crew: helping with crowd
management and food set-up; and we also need about 30 people, per event, to be
The Mentors, who will lead a small group of teens throughout the entire day.

Our interview process is pretty typical, but very necessary. This is not a full-time
commitment—but it will need your full commitment when you are working an event.
We are fully aware that we are asking you to take time out of your busy day, and for
some of you, that will mean using vacation time—so we want to say upfront that we
are very grateful for your sacrifice. We absolutely cannot put this on this event without
Attached, you will find a mentor/crew application. Please take a few moments to fill
this out and return it to the Connection Institute office, located at LifeChoices Joplin.
Excited to hear back from you,
The Battle of the Sexes Team"

Anonymous said...

7:28 Thank You. At least there's someone out there that has true tolerance. Unlike the others who followed the 8:40 comment with hate ridden comments. Christian, Muslim, Gay, transgendered, etc, etc. a perfect teaching lesson to promote tolerance to all, not just the ones in which you believe are worthy. It obvious the people who commented after 8:40 have hate towards religion and people of faith. You are no better than the religious people who are also intolerant.