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The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center filed a lawsuit against the Birdville school District and its board for violating the First Amendment through its practice of promoting Christian prayers. The AHA is Washington D.C.-based non-profit that provides legal assistance to defend the constitutional rights of religious and secular minorities by directly challenging what it calls “clear violations of the Establishment Clause and seeking equal rights for humanists, atheists and other freethinkers.”

According to the lawsuit, filed on behalf of a former student, Isaiah Smith, the school board has had a longstanding policy of choosing students to offer Christian prayers at the beginning of public school board meetings. Smith claims that the prayers made him feel unwelcome at the public meetings and that the school board endorsed Christianity. Students and teachers also regularly attend the meetings.

“School-sponsored Christian prayers at board meetings are discriminatory,”  Monica Miller, an attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, said in a press release. “This practice is particularly egregious because it invites young, impressionable students to deliver the prayers.”

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“By beginning meetings with Christian prayers, the school board is sending a message that those of minority faiths, and of no faith, are not welcome,” Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, said in the release.

The lawsuit asserts that the Birdville District is a repeat offender of the separation of church and state, including school sponsorship of religious baccalaureate ceremonies, school overnight trips to churches, and inclusion of Christian iconography in classrooms. In addition, Smith was wrongfully suspended from his high school for carrying a ripped Bible as an act of peaceful protest against students who bullied him because of his sexual orientation. The legal center successfully convinced the school district to expunge his record, but it so far refused to cease prayers in school board meetings.

Officials from the Birdville district could not immediately be reached for comment.

20 COMMENTS

  1. Incorrect representation of information throughout the entire article. He was suspended for causing a disruption in the classroom, his act of ripping a bible in front of a Christian-based populous of students was no more influential towards his suspension than the bigoted statements he has made throughout the past two years.

    • On Isaiah Smith and the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center’s lawsuit against Birdville Independent School District:

      Was the copy of the Bible that he defaced and tore apart his own copy, or was it a religious text he borrowed from the Library? If it indeed was his own personal property, the school is out of line and owes him reparation for hindering his education. If the book was borrowed from the library–as I think I remember some choice religious texts being available for reference in the library–then he was completely wrong in his attempts at protesting, as such an act defaces and destroys school property.
      Regardless, though, from what I’ve seen of current and former students’ opinions on the boy, and from what the boy has said, I’m not fond of him. However, liking someone and/or what they’re doing does not mean the AHA doesn’t have a case. Sponsored trips to church, sponsorship of religious baccalaureate ceremonies, display of religious items within classrooms–these are all things that simply aren’t allowed.

      If one were to do their research, and bring forth citations of what is and what is not allowed in a public school when considering the matter, it would be far less of a headache. With just a quick perusal of several cases, such as the Lemon v. Kurtzman, Lee v. Weisman–which, I might add, established that the state could not conduct religious exercises at public occasions even if attendance was not strictly compulsory, the school being an extension of the state–and Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe–which established that the student body could not authorize student-led prayer prior to school events, and make no mistake, a school board meeting is most certainly a school event–one can see that this lawsuit is very much warranted. While one may not like this Isaiah and might think he’s some pissant, the school and district have most certainly broken some rules, and it needs to be rectified.

      All in all, before you allow yourself to get up into a huff about such matters, at least attempt to be fair STUDENTS, whose goal should be enlightening and educating yourself, and do your research, cite your sources, and fully grasp and understand a situation before you voice your opinion on the matter.

  2. So I went to school with Isaiah. It’s a shame to see organizations of the calibre of AHA defend him. I find it difficult to support these organizations when they use kids like Isaiah to be their posterchildren, specifically Isaiah, because he himself was a bully. He hit on everyone, so let’s call that sexual harassment, and claimed because he was gay that he was only joking. I’m not homophobic, but I don’t want to be hit on. I’m not a Christian, but I stand for religious freedom. Has anyone on behalf of BISD ever come out and said “we only allow Christian prayer and have Christian ceremonies because we don’t believe in allowing other religion and idealogies to have there own?” No. They have moved mountains for students and faculty members to feel included, Christian or otherwise. It hurts to see organizations like this believe him simply because he cried “Wolf.” He was actually kicked out of an adjacent school district, Keller ISD, because he pulled the same stunts and they said enough. Isaiah himself is a bully and has ostracized many students. Go check out facebook where this is being talked about by current and previous students who feel so strongly about this issue. Further, a teacher should have the same rights as students do. The seperation of church and state was created to protect government institutions from religion, not to be used as a weapon to assault civil liberties. Why is it that a teacher can’t have a cross in their room when a student can wear a cross on a shirt? As long as the teacher isn’t preaching or mentioning their religious views, or lack thereof, what’s the issue with them, the teachers having religious, or nonreligious, views? A school sponsoring an overnight school trip? Was this trip voluntary or mandatory? Was any student not wanting to participate reprimanded? If not, then what is the issue? Why is it that a Christian student cannot attend an overnight church trip? With the same logic, could a nonfaith or other faith student be granted the same luxury as a school sponsored Mosque or Synagogue trip, overnight or otherwise?

    His act of peaceful protest was started with an argument in a band hall between Isaiah and other students where he specifically asked other students to tell him why he couldn’t be Christian and gay, and they quoted a passage from Leviticus. So he responded by ripping out the passage and asking other students for a lighter, and wanting to burn pages, in a school. On top of that, when removed from class for starting problems, he claimed he was being bullied and that the school should suspend the other students for their travesties. Why is it, by your own claim, should religion, specifically in this article, Christianity not have a place in the classroom when the student in question brought it to school, this school you are trying to get to eliminate religion from, and used it as a weapon to attack people’s faith? Why is this any different if this were to happen to any other religion or faith? The fact that he claims students bullied him for his sexual orientation, no, they bullied him because he was not a Christian like them. It truly is despicable when anyone is bullied and is a cause for alarm, but the fact of the matter is, he was a bully himself, using his sexual orientation to bully other students for their own orientations. If anything, he was suspended because he wasn’t peacefully protesting, he was suspended because he was bullying kids. On top of that, protesting in a school is against school policy, any school district’s school policy strictly prohibits protesting, including BISD’s. As a student of BISD, he knew the student code of conduct because when he applied for admission, he signed the student code of conduct, signing that he had read and understood it. He created unrest, for whatever reason, and was suspended. Should the other students have been suspended? Yes. They bullied him. They weren’t suspended. Unfortunately, that has passed and nothing can be done.

    Isaiah Smith, I’m disappointed in you. You are using the AHA as your personal army to punish students. You were wrong to bully students for their sexual orientations, just like they were wrong for bullying you. You contacted the FBI because you felt there was a direct threat to President Obama’s life because a less than intelligent student said he “didn’t like Obama and wanted him dead and said if he came to Texas he would kill Obama.” The two kids were fifteen and pulled out of class to be questioned by two FBI agents. They are less than intelligent. I hope that the AHA understands that Isaiah Smith is not worthy to be represented by them, and they should drop the lawsuit because it is unjustified on any grounds and is being propagated by slander and blatant disregard for established school policy.

    I am a BISD student, and I am ashamed by this as a student, a Humanist, and more importantly as a believer in Civil Liberties.

  3. His words are all lies. He did make these actions, but completely changed what the school said. He wasn’t “bullied”, Smith WAS the bully. All of these religious were presented by the school from a student in which was sepearte from the school. These students payed for these trips, not the school which none of these trips were funded by the school. These religious get together were separate from the school and even after school hours. This does not violate the amendment as I learn all this in my Universities school of education classes. Smith was as lie and a person who plagued our school with chaos that he created first coming in. He ruined the band program by almost breaking it apart for the causes he did. He made students break down in class as he rubbed his beliefs in them when they have said nothing to him. He bullied the school, the students, and even the faculty. This is the most sorry excuse for a news cast or newspaper to cover on since it is a lie. Parents have fought over this and almost rebelled over his lies that he spread around our school. He wants to break down this school as he did to Keller high. Keller high expelled this man, and Birdville gave him a second chance so he may reach higher education. Now do toy see how he pays back to a school who has the heart to help him succeed? He breaks our school done even though the school helped him. Smith is a pathetic excuse for a humanist or even a rights campaign fighter. He uses lies to win fame as he said “I will become the next president.” Who wants a president that destroys their own peoples lives? Who lies and cheats, hopefully no one.

    My ending quote, Mr. Smith, I hope you read this and finally take in all the lies and sin you have caused, because everyone is a child of god, a Shepard, and an angel. Even through all the chaos someone has caused, you will always be his child.

  4. This is completely ridiculous!! The good old fashioned statement “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!” If you dont like the “praying” then ignore it or GET OUT!!! Stop messing with one of the greatest school districts in the metroplex. I have been a part of BISD my whole life, and have never felt outcast or anything because of my faith, nor have my children. This guy (& agency) are only out to make a pretty penny. Such jerks! Money is the root of all evil…

    • You are missing the point entirely. If you want to talk about “Don’t like it, leave,” then how about you re-read the constitution by which all people and institutions are to abide by. To my knowledge, no one sensible in the history of freedoms of the US has ever advocated for the complete submission of Christianity, or any other religion for that matter. The argument is and has always been that the constitution has made it illegal to promote one religion over the other. That means that a clear bias for and promotion of Christianity is against the law. That isn’t crazy. That’s just how it is — that everyone should be allowed to peaceably believe what they like without making it a public, school-sponsored ordeal.

      • The thing is that they weren’t school sponsored. Prayer before football games was student led. The “overnight church trip” was just that, a trip to a church. A church may be a religious building, but was not used for religious purposes. It was a free place for a group of students to stay who participated in Shattered Dreams. Isaiah was not there so he does not know what happened at said event. Baccalaureate itself is a religious ceremony that is NOT mandatory and is also student led. While teachers may speak at this event, they are STUDENT APPOINTED. Students are fully aware of what this event entails and Smith likely only attended so that he could have something else to twist up and get people in trouble for. Maybe the media should start getting all sides of the story, talk about bias. This kid is trying to destroy the school’s reputation for the sole purpose of making himself look like an angelic activist. I was in band with him and he was not respectful of ANYONE, no matter how well we treated him. I was personally victim to his “flirting.” He would not stop after being asked nicely multiple times. He would wink, give little smirks, and use language that would make anyone uncomfortable. Until you know who he really is, don’t assume the school or his peers are all to blame. This school did everything they could to support him and he just tossed it out without a second thought. Until the media recognizes those of us speaking out, he will continue to look like this innocent minority who has fallen victim to the world. I never once saw him bullied for his race or sexuality. He is upset because the school doesn’t respect his religion or lack thereof, but what about the times he’s disrespected other peoples’ religion? Is he allowed to do it? Not to mention his claims that the school is pushing Christianity are totally false and twisted. What made it okay for him to burn a bible in school? That’s offensive to other people and he wouldn’t want them doing the same thing to him, clearly shown by these articles he’s in. He’s an instigator and a liar, and if that’s who you want to believe, go right ahead. He’s made it very clear he will be running for president, so make sure you vote for him and spread the news that the paragon of man has come to save us all.

  5. Before I start this out I would like to say I am a complete atheist, I do not believe in god, the devil, heaven, or hell. Isaiah’s multiple attempts to sue the school are very well known throughout the school as was his goal in drawing attention to himself. He is in every aspect of the word narcissistic. Now I’m not entirely sure whether the school board holds prayer before board meetings, but based on all the other biased and untruths in this article its not likely. Isaiah tries to draw pity using the minority card, or the gay card. He is suing the school because they will not let him destroy other’s beliefs. Before the ripping and attempt to find a source to burn the bible he claimed atheism openly. As soon as he got in trouble for it he claimed he was christian and only tearing the parts he didn’t agree with. No one challenged him on his sexuality or race . He challenged Christians to give proof where there god said he was wrong and they did. Ripping a book alone and trying to burn it is disruptive enough and has a consequence, but since he ripped the bible something many people are emotionally attached to it only made it a bigger disruption. I have no problem with anyone’s race, religion, freethinking, sexual orientation, or nationality. I have a problem with someone slandering my school under pretense accusations. Birdville High school takes care of everyone equally. I have never been treated differently by students or staff because of my ethnic background, race, or lack of belief. Birdville’s students and staff go the extra mile to make people feel accepted and Isaiah just blew it away for a little publicity. -2015 Birdville Highschool Senior JonSebastian Andrade

  6. It’s a very simple rule, and Smith’s personality has nothing to do with the fact that he’s right: “Preaching ain’t teaching.” Religion has no place in school functions, and it never will. No matter how much people may dislike Smith, the Constitution is on his side. And it will cost the district a TON of money to pretend otherwise and ultimately lose, just like every time religion tries to sneak into our public schools.

  7. I sat next to him while he was in the class. He did that PURLY to aggravate people. While he was ripping the pages out he proceeded to look around the class for reactions. He smiled when he noticed the intense emotional reaction from a girl in the back of the class. Isaiah is know to be one to cause trouble just for attention. If this school settles, it will be for nothing more than to just empower more idiots to claim that they are being targeted. Isaiah was not persecuted, he was just a jerk.

  8. As the mom of a soon-to-be Birdville High School graduate, I’ve become more aware of Isaiah Smith than I ever would have liked. My son was one of the individuals who Mr. Smith targeted with comments about “taking him out on a date”, winks and other improper advances. My son and others chose to ignore his actions and keep their distance. There are some days, like when I read this article, that I wish that hadn’t been the case. Perhaps if our children would have taken a stand and Mr. Smith been held accountable, he would have learned a valuable lesson that there are consequences for his actions. Consequences arising from the action itself, not because of his sexual preference or beliefs. My experiences with the Birdville High School faculty and staff have been positive and it bothers me a great deal to hear accusations made that are unfounded and inflammatory.

    Regarding this latest attempt of attention-grabbing by Mr. Smith & the AHA, the First Amendment reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Those who challenge prayer in school have used the first sentence (the Establishment Clause) for years in support of their ‘separation of church and state’ argument. In actuality, the sentence was written to prevent any government from establishing & forcing a “one size fits all” religion on it’s citizens. Neither Birdville High School nor the BISD School Board are guilty of violating that clause of the Constitution.

    The sentence in this article that may bother me the most is “the legal center successfully convinced the school district to expunge his record”. Why? If Mr. Smith doesn’t want to be treated differently because of his sexual preference or beliefs – then he should receive the same punishment as any other student who disrupts class. Either you want to be treated differently – or you don’t, you can’t have it both ways. He seems to seek and enjoy attention, negative or otherwise. His behavior through the years has been disruptive, argumentative and confrontational. When someone does challenge his thinking or actions, he hides behind the “it’s because I’m gay” or “you’re a Christian bigot” defense. No. It’s because he has shown himself to be incapable of having an adult conversation and respecting the views, beliefs or opinions of others. Just because our views aren’t the same, doesn’t mean I’m wrong and you’re right and vice versa.

    I’ve witnessed Mr. Smith turn his back when the Pledge of Allegiance is recited. He has the right and the choice to do that. But I have rights, too. I have the right to express my opinions and beliefs and I have the right to disagree with Mr. Smith and the AHA in this matter. In the age of “political correctness” I think we’ve lost sight that there are times when you have to take a stand. I am taking a stand FOR BIRDVILLE HIGH SCHOOL and the BISD SCHOOL BOARD. I hope, pray and trust that decisions made going forward will be for the protection and betterment of ALL BISD students, not on the basis of threats or appeasement of one former student.

  9. Regardless of his character (of which I’m not aware), I think that Christian prayer before school board meetings is unconstitutional. I have no issue with Christianity, nor do I have a problem with Islam, Judaism, or any other religion (or atheism, for that matter). However, I do believe that separation of religion and state dictates that a school board meeting for a government funded school cannot conduct Christian prayers. Were I in that situation, and everyone around me started praying together for a different religion, I would feel alienated.

    • the First Amendment reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Those who challenge prayer in school have used the first sentence (the Establishment Clause) for years in support of their ‘separation of church and state’ argument. In actuality, the sentence was written to prevent any government from establishing & forcing a “one size fits all” religion on it’s citizens.

  10. What is this world coming to this is the United States of America. That is the problem take God out of the schools
    I am American /Mexican we were bright up religiIon. We said The Pledge of Allegan center in the morning at school. I think what that did is doing suing the school so he and his parents can’t get money. Look at this world there is fighting viloence,people killing people, letting people in the USA who can’t speak EnglisH. I believe English should be your first language. I believe God comes first. I think if we could push our kids they would act right. I believe that we have a right to speak and say what we feel. Isaiah the name is in the bible. I feel there is nothing with wrong saying prayers first before a meeting. If the student don’t want to do it then that is his choice. Then he shouldn’t go to a meeting.

  11. I don’t agree with the way this is being handled. The facts aren’t being presented clearly. I don’t believe that any of BISD’s religious practices are anything but student led. Prayers before football games or at graduations are not school sponsored, but I do hope that this brings awareness to the many religious practices at school. I understand that they’re student led but it certainly always felt supported by the school and it made those who weren’t of the same faith very uncomfortable.

  12. Interesting how people are so sensitive. I’m Agnostic. Nothing the school has ever done has offended me. I don’t understand why people go through all of this trouble to accomplish something so little. One would love to destroy a world, to carve a better world for them. Apparently Isaiah needs a little sit down. He clearly isn’t mentally stable. Why would one get offended for another religion being promoted? That’s like myself being offended because not everyone’s Agnostic. I’m obviously on a rant, because knowing something like this happening in such an “advanced society” is preposterous. If Isaiah “wins”, I’d like to be reassured, that I wouldn’t be the only one who would want an edited and more polished country. Blasphemy is what this all is.

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