Bakersfield, CAâ€”Attorneys with the Pacific Justice Institute sent a warning letter late yesterday to officials with the Bakersfield City School District (BCSD), urging them to retract a bulletin which seeks to restrict religious speech by teachers even when they are not working.
The Advisory Bulletin, dated September 19 and addressed to principals in the district, claims that teachers cannot participate in tomorrowâ€™s annual â€œSee You At The Poleâ€ (SYATP) events.Â For the past several years, students across America have gathered around their schoolsâ€™ flagpoles before school begins on the fourth Wednesday in September to pray for their fellow students, their campuses and the nation.
Locally, SYATP events tend to be loosely organized and open to the general public. Â PJIâ€™s letter to BCSD reminds the District that teachers do not lose their rights to act as citizens and exercise their First Amendment freedoms, when they are off the clock.
â€œSometimes the government gets so hypersensitive about separation of church and state that it loses sight of the actual text of the First Amendment, including freedom of speech and free exercise of religion,â€ stated Brad Dacus, the president of PJI.Â â€œWe need to restore that balance, and our letter aims to do just that.â€
The letter, penned by PJI staff attorney Matthew McReynolds, notes that PJI is willing to represent any teachers faced with adverse employment action for participating in See You At The Pole, while also being willing to represent BCSD and other school districts that choose to honor teachersâ€™ First Amendment rights, against any challenges from extreme church-state separation groups.
â€œTeachers are natural community leaders and civic participants,â€ noted McReynolds.Â â€œIf anything, we should be encouraging and not censoring active, engaged citizens who simply want the best for their communities and schools.