An Arizona school district has reversed its policy of prohibiting Arizona Christian University education students from doing their student teaching in the district.
The board of the Washington Elementary School District, which covers Phoenix and Glendale, changed its stance in Wednesday’s settlement of a lawsuit filed by Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of ACU two months ago.
In February, the district’s governing board, which KSAZ-TV said has three LGBT members, voted 5-0 to end the district’s 11-year relationship with the university because of the university’s beliefs in Christian values, specifically in the area of sexuality and marriage, according to an ADF news release.
The break came despite no reports of complaints regarding the behavior of ACU student teachers.
“By discriminating against Arizona Christian University and denying it an opportunity to participate in the student-teacher program because of its religious status and beliefs, the school district was in blatant violation of the U.S. Constitution, not to mention state law that protects ACU’s religious freedom,” David Cortman, ADF senior counsel and vice president of U.S. litigation, said in a statement.
“At a time when a critical shortage of qualified, caring teachers exists, the Washington Elementary School District board did the right thing by prioritizing the needs of elementary school children and agreeing to partner once again with ACU’s student-teachers,” said Cortman, who represented ACU in federal district court.
As part of the settlement with ACU, the board agreed to pay $25,000 in attorneys’ fees.
University President Len Munsil said more than a hundred ACU students have trained within the district, with 25 eventually being hired full-time, KSAZ reported.
It was at a Feb. 23 meeting that the school board voted to eject ACU students from its schools.
During the debate, board member Tamillia Valenzuela — who describes herself in her biography on the district’s website as “a bilingual, disabled, neurodivergent Queer Black Latina” and attended the meeting wearing furry cat ears — said teachers from the university would make students feel unsafe.
She said she had “concerns” after looking at ACU’s website and read aloud the first “core commitment” on the school’s “Mission” page: “Before all else, be committed to Jesus Christ — accomplishing His will and advancing His kingdom on earth as in heaven.”
“At some point, we need to get real with ourselves and take a look at who we’re making legal contracts with and the message that that is sending to our community,” Valenzuela said. “Because that makes me feel like I could not be safe in this school district.”
“That makes other queer kids … [feel] that they could not be safe in this community,” she said.
The subsequent ADF lawsuit noted that the board raised questions about how individuals could be “committed to Jesus Christ” and still respect LGBT students and members of the school board.
Troublesome beliefs for board members apparently included portions of the ACU student handbook, according to KSAZ.
Among those beliefs are recognition of marriage as existing only between a man and a woman “with absolute marital fidelity.”
The handbook also cites specific roles of husbands and wives, including as fathers and mothers, and of the role of children.
“It is our firm conviction that we uphold the dignity of each individual as we embrace the unchanging and longstanding principles of scriptural truth,” the handbook says.
It also calls on ACU community members to avoid sex outside of marriage, including same-sex activities.
ADF is regularly involved in religious freedom issues, a biblically recognized pattern used by the Apostle Paul long ago in the face of religious persecution and his making an appeal to the highest levels of the Roman government (Acts 25:11).
Paul’s actions are good to remember amid increasing legal conflicts between LGBT activists and people who adhere to biblical principles.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.
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