Colorado school district settles church-state case with Jewish teacher

Julie Wiener

(JTA) — A Colorado district settled a church-state lawsuit with a Jewish teacher who claimed that one of its schools “operates largely to promote the evangelical Christian ideals” of a particular church.

The settlement, reached Tuesday, stipulates that the Florence district stop allowing numerous religious activities cited in the lawsuit.

Robert Basevitz, a history teacher at Florence High, sued the Fremont RE-2 district in May, contending that school officials violated the separation of church and state by allowing the Cowboy Church at Crossroads to hold numerous activities at the school during school hours and school officials to participate in and promote the activities while acting in their official capacities.

According to the lawsuit, two large signs promoting the church hang on school property; school officials participate in daily morning prayer services at the school’s flagpole, often preventing others from entering the school until it is over; and church leaders regularly use the school’s public address system to promote its activities to students.

Basevits is, “to his knowledge,” the only Jewish teacher in the district, the lawsuit said, noting also that he is kosher observant and a veteran of the first Gulf War.

The teacher’s attorney, Paul Maxon, said in a news release that “neither party admitted liability or wrongdoing but entered the agreement as a compromise settlement,” the Denver Post reported.

Under the settlement, the Post reported, the district will make the following changes: a district-wide ban on prayers at any school-sponsored event; no longer allow the Cowboy Church at Crossroads to use the district facilities for worship services; and student-led religious groups must be student-led, with district employees attending only as observers to make sure rules are being followed.

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