Thursday, March 24, 2016
Discovery completed in R-8 field trip lawsuit, trial date set
Ridder was substituted as a defendant in the case after the "retirement" of former Superintendent C. J. Huff.
The lawsuit was filed by "Jane Doe" on behalf of her children, claiming that students were being exposed to religion during the field trip.
Motions are due by April 25. A pre-trial conference is scheduled for 1 p.m. September 1 before Judge Douglas Harpool in Springfield.
The trial, which is expected to last four days, is set to begin 9 a.m. September 12.
The situation that brought about the lawsuit is explained below:
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.