Judge: Mission trip fundraiser at Douglas County school violated First Amendment

DENVER – A district court judge has ruled that the Douglas County School District violated the First Amendment when one of the district’s schools organized a fundraising drive for a religious mission trip to Guatemala.

The case was brought by the American Humanist Association and a parent of students at Cougar Run Elementary School, who used the pseudonym “Jane Zoe” in the lawsuit.

The case dates back to the spring of 2014, when a teacher at Cougar Run volunteered to start a supply drive for a Christian mission trip to Guatemala being organized by the Highlands Ranch High School chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. The drive was scheduled to take place during school hours at Cougar Run.

According to the lawsuit, Zoe received flyers and emails about the fundraiser from teachers and the principal of Cougar Run, John Gutierrez, asking for supplies and monetary donations.

Zoe, who is not Christian, said her son felt “coerced into participating and contributing to this religious fundraiser,” arguing that the school’s promotion of the event violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Judge R. Brooke Jackson agreed, writing that the district’s support of the drive amounted to “an excessive government entanglement with religion.”

“Defendants supported an overtly Christian cause through financial donations, through sending emails and flyers to students’ families, and through hosting the supply drive during school hours over the course of a school week,” Jackson wrote.

The district hasn’t said whether it plans to appeal the decision.

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