BY COURTENAY EDELHART Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
An annual Christian prayer event took place without complications this week after the Bakersfield City School District backed away from a staff memo that advised employees not to participate.
Held the fourth Wednesday in September, See You at the Pole is a gathering of Christian students around their schools' flagpoles to pray before the school day begins.
See You at the Pole was observed locally at 7 a.m. Wednesday It was a student-led initiative not affiliated with or connected to BCSD.
Still, as a precaution, the district last week sent out a memo as part of its weekly advisory bulletin to employees warning staff that if they prayed with students, the district could be seen as illegally sponsoring religion, "even if that praying occurred before or after school."
An elementary school teacher sent a copy of the memo to the Christian advocacy group Pacific Justice Institute, which fired off a letter warning that the memo violated the freedom of speech and religious rights of off-duty employees.
"Teachers may participate in See You at the Pole on the same level that any private citizen, whether parent, student or community member, may do so. Their rights of participation and speech are not greater--and not less," wrote staff attorney Matthew McReynolds.
BCSD responded by issuing a follow-up memo clarifying the district's policy. The memo said that "while this event is not sponsored by the School District, students, staff and members of the public may attend this before-school event. The District neither sanctions nor prohibits participation in this event by anyone, and those who choose to attend may do so on the same terms as all other attendees."