Arizona Christian University sues school district for anti-religious bias

by Jacob Fuller

Curt Flewelling, FISM News

A Christian university in Arizona has filed a lawsuit against a local school district for violating the state’s Free Exercise of Religion Act.

The action comes as a result of a decision by the Washington Elementary School District (WESD) to halt the practice of allowing Arizona Christian University (ACU) education majors to be student-teachers in their schools. The five-member WESD school board voted unanimously to sever the partnership with ACU because of the alleged threat that the college students’ biblical value system poses to LGBTQ students.

In a public statement explaining the board’s decision, school board member Tamillia Valenzuela made the board’s view of Christians clear.

“Having student teachers with biblical values in the state’s largest elementary school district is just too dangerous,” Valenzuela said. “Because if we’re bringing people in whose mission, who has been told with their institution of education, that … above all else, it is to influence people to be biblically minded, how does that hold space for our members of the LGBTQ community?”

Of particular concern to Valenzuela is the university’s commitment to transforming the culture by promoting biblically informed values that include the centrality of family, traditional sexual morality, and lifelong marriage between one man and one woman.

ACU student teachers have always been instructed to respect and abide by all rules and policies of the school districts they cooperate with. Furthermore, all student-teachers have to sign legal agreements that prevent them from discriminating against any student. Many ACU students have been so well received that they have gone on to become full-time teachers in the district.

ACU President Len Munsil feels that his students are the ones who are being unfairly discriminated against.

“The school board’s recent decision to ban ACU students from serving as student teachers was done for one reason only: our university’s commitment to our Christian convictions,” Munsil told the Christian Post. “That’s wrong, it’s unlawful and it will only hurt the district’s students. Religious liberty and freedom of conscience are bedrock American principles and we are exploring our options to defend the rights of our students.”

On March 9, ACU chose the option to sue WESD claiming the constitutional rights of their students had been violated. The university is being represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a conservative Christian advocacy group.

ADF lawyer Jake Reed told the Religion News Service, “What happened here is students are losing out on opportunities, and they’re frankly being punished because of their religious beliefs.”