Arizona Christian University v. Washington Elementary School District
Description: For the past 11 years, Arizona Christian University and Washington Elementary School District have had a mutually beneficial partnership where students in the university’s elementary educational program would student-teach and shadow teachers in the school district. That partnership, however, ended abruptly in February 2023 when the school district terminated its relationship with ACU because of the university’s religious beliefs on biblical marriage and sexuality even though no complaints had been made about an Arizona Christian student or alumnus. The school district’s decision to revoke its relationship and cease all future agreements with the school because of its religious status and beliefs violates the university’s constitutionally protected freedoms.
AZ school district unlawfully drops student-teachers because they attend Christian university
PHOENIX – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing Arizona Christian University filed suit Thursday against Washington Elementary School District for permanently cutting ties with the university because of its religious beliefs. For the past 11 years, Arizona Christian University and Washington Elementary School District, the largest elementary school district in Arizona serving Phoenix and Glendale, had a mutually beneficial partnership where students in the university’s elementary educational program would student-teach and shadow teachers in the school district.
That partnership, however, ended abruptly two weeks ago when the school district terminated its relationship with ACU because of the university’s religious beliefs on biblical marriage and sexuality even though no complaints had been made about an Arizona Christian student or alumnus. The school district’s decision to revoke its relationship and cease all future agreements with the school because of its religious status and beliefs violates the university’s constitutionally protected freedoms.
“By discriminating against Arizona Christian University and denying it an opportunity to participate in the student teacher program because of its religious status and beliefs, the school district is in blatant violation of the U.S. Constitution, not to mention state law that protects ACU’s religious freedom,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman, vice president of U.S. litigation. “Washington Elementary School District officials are causing irreparable harm to ACU every day they force it to choose between its religious beliefs and partnering with the area’s public schools.”
“At a time when there is a critical shortage of qualified, caring teachers, Washington Elementary School District officials are choosing their own political ideologies over the needs of elementary children,” said ADF Senior Counsel Ryan Tucker, director of the ADF Center for Christian Ministries. “Not only are school officials doing a tremendous disservice to Phoenix and Glendale families by depriving their kids of much-needed teaching assistance, they are also violating the First Amendment and state law, by depriving ACU students, because of their faith, the opportunity to partner with the school district.”
Through its partnership with Washington Elementary School District, ACU’s students were able to obtain necessary real-world experience in order to graduate, and the school district benefited by having additional, free teaching assistance. In fact, the school district has hired several ACU graduates who previously student-taught in one of its schools.
At a Feb. 23 school district board meeting, all five board members voted unanimously to terminate the district’s relationship with ACU because of its religious beliefs. The lawsuit notes that school district officials showed blatant hostility to those beliefs, questioning how one could “be committed to Jesus Christ” and yet, at the same time, respect LGBTQ students and board members. One board member even stated that the mere presence of ACU student teachers would make some students—and herself—feel “unsafe.” Another stated she was “embarrassed” that she allowed the school district’s partnership with ACU to continue for so long.
“For over a decade, Arizona Christian University’s Elementary Education programs have happily served children in the Phoenix and Glendale communities in partnership with Washington Elementary School District. Our university students pursuing teaching careers bring respect, kindness, and excellence to the elementary classrooms,” said Dr. Linnea Lyding, Dean of the Shelly Roden School of Education and the School of Arts, Science & Humanities at ACU. “We certainly hope we can continue our partnership with this district for the benefit of the elementary children in our community and for our student-teachers.”
ADF attorneys filed Arizona Christian University v. Washington Elementary School District in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona.
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.
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David A. Cortman serves as senior counsel and vice president of U.S. litigation with Alliance Defending Freedom. He has been practicing law since 1996, and currently supervises a team of over 40 attorneys and legal staff who specialize in constitutional law, focusing on religious freedom, sanctity of life, and marriage and family. Cortman has litigated hundreds of constitutional law cases including two victories at the U.S. Supreme Court. In Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, he secured a 7-2 victory that overturned Missouri’s denial of a religious school’s participation in a state funding program. Cortman also argued Reed v. Town of Gilbert, securing a 9-0 ruling that prohibits the government from discriminating against religious speech. A member of the bar in Georgia, Florida, Arizona, and the District of Columbia, he is also admitted to practice in over two dozen federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. Cortman obtained his J.D. magna cum laude from Regent University School of Law.
Ryan Tucker serves as senior counsel and director of the Center for Christian Ministries with Alliance Defending Freedom. He oversees all litigation efforts to maintain and defend the constitutionally protected freedom of churches, Christian ministries and religious schools to exercise their rights under the First Amendment. Prior to joining ADF, Tucker engaged in private practice for over 16 years with a litigation boutique law firm in San Antonio, Texas, eight of those as a partner. His portfolio included all aspects of civil litigation, both state and federal, with a particular focus on commercial and complex business disputes. Tucker earned his Juris Doctor at Baylor Law School, where he was a senior editor of the Baylor Law Review. He obtained his bachelor of business administration in management at Texas A&M University, where he graduated cum laude. A member of the state bar in Texas and Arizona, Tucker is admitted to practice in the U.S. Supreme Court and multiple federal district and appellate courts.