School Officials Acknowledge Kindergartner's Right to Religious Freedom in the Classroom
Saratoga Springs, NY -- Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have negotiated a settlement between Dorothy Nolan Elementary School officials and five-year-old kindergarten student Kayla Broadus, who was prohibited by school officials from praying out loud with her classmates before snack time. Under the settlement, school officials have acknowledged Kayla's right to pray out loud before snack time in a non-disruptive manner and have disavowed previous statements that prohibited her from doing so. Although Kayla may not invite others to pray with her, she is free to express her religious beliefs without fear of discrimination.
Kayla Kimp-Broadus is a kindergartner at Dorothy Nolan Elementary School in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. During snack time, Kayla invited three of her classmates who shared a table with her to join hands as she said grace before they ate their snacks. Mistakenly citing the separation of church and state, Kayla's teacher stopped them from doing so and informed Kayla that she was not allowed to pray. The school's principal concurred with the teacher. After being contacted by Kayla's mother, Institute legal staff wrote to the school's principal, demanding that school officials apologize to Kayla and allow her to freely exercise her constitutional right to religious expression by offering thanks to God for her snacks. The letter also corrected the teacher's and principal's assumption that this was a matter of separation of church and state when, in fact, there was no "state" action involved. In response, the school's legal counsel insisted that Kayla still would not be allowed to pray out loud before snack time, even though children were free to talk out loud among themselves during this time. On April 12, 2002, after a formal hearing in U.S. District Court in Utica, Judge David N. Hurd ordered Dorothy Nolan Elementary School officials to allow Kayla to say her prayers out loud before snack time. Previously, attorneys for The Rutherford Institute had succeeded in obtaining a temporary court order that allowed Kayla to continue saying her prayers until a formal hearing could take place. Judge Hurd's order allowed Kayla to continue saying her prayers out loud until a final decision was reached in the case.
"While we are thankful for Kayla and her family that the anti-religious discrimination Kayla suffered has finally been corrected, it should not have taken a federal lawsuit to vindicate her basic civil rights," said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. "Any censorship of personal religious speech in a public school--even though it is couched in terms of separation of church and state--teaches children that religious persons are second-class citizens, and this is fundamentally wrong."
"I'm pleased that Dorothy Nolan Elementary School now has a policy that says Kayla can say her grace out loud, because school officials had no right to tell Kayla she couldn't pray out loud in the first place," stated Kayla's mother, Cheryl Broadus. "I think Kayla understands that this is just the beginning of people opposing her for what she believes in. But I believe in the long run this experience will strengthen her faith and, hopefully, help her to stand up for what she believes in and not cower or be ashamed of her faith.
Broadus continued, "My hope is that if there are other children in Kayla's school who have remained silent for fear of being reprimanded, this settlement will give them the courage to speak up and speak out about their religious beliefs, even if it takes the form of a simple blessing at snack time. The Rutherford Institute has been wonderful throughout this process. They moved swiftly to defend Kayla's rights and I couldn't have done it without them. I am truly appreciative of everything they have done for Kayla and for me."
The Rutherford Institute is an international, nonprofit civil liberties organization committed to defending constitutional and human rights.