Salvation for report on Bible
School district changes its stance after lawyer threatens rights
By Berny Morson, Rocky Mountain News
December 13, 2002
LAFAYETTE - Pen and paper weren't enough
for 11-year-old Elizabeth Johnson to do her book report.
She needed a lawyer.
Sixth-grade teachers at Peak to Peak Charter School initially
rejected Elizabeth's choice of the biblical Book of Exodus for her
The Boulder Valley School District changed its stance after an
attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, which specializes in
religious-freedom issues, threatened to bring a civil rights suit.
Elizabeth, a born-again member of First Baptist Church in
Broomfield, said she wasn't trying to push her religion on the
other students. She just likes the drama of Exodus.
"I just wanted to do how he (Moses) rescued the slaves, and how
he was born," she said Thursday.
Robert Corry, the Denver-based attorney who represented
Elizabeth, said schools can't discriminate against religious
statements if they make an assignment involving expression.
"They have to treat religious speech the same way as every
other (kind of) speech," Corry said.
School administrators and an attorney for the district did not
return phone calls for comment.
But the attorney, Darcy Mohr, said in a letter to Corry that
Elizabeth's choice was not rejected on religious grounds.
Mohr said teachers were concerned that the Bible would not meet
requirements of the assignment, which requires students to
describe their book's protagonist and setting. Students were also
asked to discuss the relation between the picture on the cover of
the book and the plot, Mohr said.
After further discussion, teachers were satisfied the Bible
meets those standards, Mohr said.
But Elizabeth said teachers told her the Bible might offend
students of different religions. She was told not even to bring
her Bible to school, Elizabeth said.
Principal Bernita Grove modified the decision after a
discussion with Elizabeth's mom, Kathleen Johnson. Grove ruled
that Elizabeth could do a written report on the Bible, but could
not deliver an oral report in class, like the other students.
That was "definitely" discrimination, Elizabeth said.
Kathleen Johnson said that she and Elizabeth forgive the
But, Johnson said, "I feel like all children have the right, in
the United States, to talk about what's important to them in
school. It's not right for people to say you need to keep that at
home, you can't bring that with you wherever you go."