A group of students at a Colorado high school have been banned from meeting together to pray, sing and discuss their Christian faith.
Officials at Pine Creek High School told one of the senior students that the group could no longer meet during free periods, citing rules on the “separation of church and state”.
The move has been criticised by religious liberty group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) which has filed a lawsuit against the school.
Senior student Chase Windebank had been meeting with friends during free time to pray, sing and talk for the last three years.
Pupils are allowed to use this time to engage in a variety of activities, including reading, texting, playing games or getting something to eat.
However, school officials told Windebank that the “separation of church and state” requires a ban on religious speech and that the group would have to meet outside school hours.
Jeremy Tedesco, a senior lawyer at ADF, criticised the comments saying that: “Public schools should encourage the free exchange of ideas”.
He accused the school of implementing “an ill-conceived ban that singles out religious speech for censorship during free time”.
ADF also argued that the school’s decision violates the First Amendment.
Legal Counsel Matt Sharp said: “Far from being unconstitutional, religious speech is expressly protected by the First Amendment, and public schools have no business stopping students from praying together during their free time”.
ADF sent a letter to the school district explaining the “unconstitutionality of the school’s policy and practice”, but the district responded by saying it is standing by the school’s position.
Last month, Christian groups at California State University were stripped of recognition because they refused to sign a policy which would require them to open their membership and leadership to all students, including non-Christians.