United States District Court, D. Colorado
AMERICAN HUMANIST ASSOCIATION, INC., JANE ZOE, individually and as parent on behalf of a minor, Plaintiffs,
DOUGLAS COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT RE-1, DOUGLAS COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, ELIZABETH CELANIA-FAGEN, in her official capacity as Superintendent of Douglas County School District, JOHN GUTIERREZ, in his official capacity as Principal of Cougar Run Elementary School, and JERRY GOINGS, in his official capacity as Principal of Highlands Ranch High School, Defendants.
Brooke Jackson United States District Judge
action is before the Court on remand from the Tenth Circuit
Court of Appeals for the reasons set forth in American
Humanist Association, Inc. v. Douglas County School District
RE-1, 859 F.3d 1243 (10th Cir. 2017). The Court here
addresses the parties' cross-motions for summary
case, as it stands following the appellate decision, is
brought by the American Humanist Association
(“AHA”) and one of its members whose pseudonym is
“Jane Zoe.” The AHA is a non-profit organization
that promotes the “separation of church and state and
the constitutional rights of humanists, atheists and other
freethinkers.” ECF No. 1 at 5. Ms. Zoe's two
children attend Cougar Run Elementary School in Douglas
County, Colorado. Plaintiffs claim that defendants promote a
culture of promoting the Christian religion in the Douglas
County School District.
event that is the focus of the case vis-à-vis Ms. Zoe
was a Guatemala mission trip in 2014. ECF No. 50 at 6-7. The
mission trip was created by and for members of a district
high school's chapter of the Fellowship of Christian
Athletes (“FCA”), a student club in which both
students and teachers took part. ECF No. 58 at 13. The FCA
planned the trip through an organization called Adventures in
Missions (“AIM”), which plans Christian mission
trips in both the United States and abroad. ECF No. 47 at 1.
The stated goals of the mission trip were to “promote
Christianity” and to “introduce [children] to the
Bible.” ECF No. 47-23 at 89. Fourteen high school
students and two teachers participated in the trip.
as it relates to the Zoe children, in the spring semester of
2014, Cougar Run sixth-grade teacher Micki Benge volunteered
to spearhead a supply drive to help fundraise for the mission
trip. ECF No. 47 at 5. The supply drive was to last a week
and take place during school hours. Id. As part of
this effort, Ms. Benge printed flyers regarding the
fundraiser which were sent home in students' “take
home folders.” This flyer stated that the supply drive
was “Sponsored by Cougar Run 6th Graders
partnering with the FCA (Fellowship of Christian
Athletes)” and noted that “[t]his effort was born
out of a desire for our 6th grade students to make
real-world connections with their Latin American social
studies curriculum.” ECF No.1-59. Ms. Zoe's son
received one of these flyers and brought it home. ECF No. 1
addition to the flyer, Ms. Zoe received an email from her
son's preschool teacher, Camille Espinosa, encouraging
participation in the supply drive. ECF No. 1-60. The email
asked for supply donations for the trip and noted that
“monetary donations are also welcome! Please make
checks payable to Cougar Run Elementary.” Id.
The email also stated “we are partnering with HRHS on
this effort-specifically the FCA (Fellowship of Christian
Athletes) organization” that “will be travelling
to Guatemala over Spring Break to run camps for Guatemalan
orphans.” Id. Cougar Run Principal Gutierrez
also emailed “Cougar Run families” informing them
that Cougar Run had “partnered with [FCA]” and
asked the families to donate money to the supply drive. ECF
response to an interrogatory, Ms. Zoe stated that her son
“felt coerced into participating and contributing to
this religious fundraiser.” ECF No. 47-8 at 4 (response
to Interrogatory 5). As non-Christians, the school's
actions in promoting and endorsing a Christian organization .
. . made us feel like outsiders and unwelcome in our own
community.” ECF No. 47-8. Id. Nevertheless,
Ms. Zoe told her son that they would not be supporting the
supply drive. In her deposition Ms. Zoe testified that her
son was questioned and maltreated by his classmates for his
beliefs underlying the reason he did not participate in the
drive. ECF No. 58-2 at 10 (depo. p. 62).
their Complaint plaintiffs asserted violations of the
Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the Equal
Access Act. They sought declaratory relief, injunctive
relief, nominal damages, attorney's fees and costs under
the Establishment Clause and the Equal Access Act. ECF No. 1
at 44-45. However, the Tenth Circuit determined that Ms. Zoe
has standing to pursue her claims only in part. She has
standing to pursue a claim for violation of the Establishment
Clause and to seek retrospective declaratory relief, nominal
damages, and presumably, attorney's fees and costs. She
does not have standing as to her claim under the Equal Access
Act, and she does not have standing to seek prospective
relief. American Humanist Association, 859 F.3d at
1253-55, 60-61. Plaintiffs seek summary judgment on the
remaining claims. ECF No. 47. Defendants ask the Court to
enter summary judgment dismissing the remaining claims.
See ECF No. 50 at 20.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court may grant summary judgment if “there is no
genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(a). The moving party has the burden to show that there is
an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's
case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325
(1986). Here, both parties contend that the case may be
resolved by a summary judgment.
Ms. Zoe's Establishment Clause Claim - Scope and
Tenth Circuit left it to this Court to determine the scope
and merits of Ms. Zoe's Establishment Clause claim. 859
F.3d at 1254 n.4.
Scope of Ms. Zoe's Claim.
asserts that the District engaged in a pattern or practice of
promoting Christianity in violation of the Establishment
Clause. ECF No. 1 at 40. I bear in mind the limits of what is
before this Court at this time. The Tenth Circuit determined
that Ms. Zoe does not have standing to seek prospective
relief. Also, Ms. Zoe does not have standing to challenge
activities at District charter schools (which her children do
not attend or come into contact with) or a Belize mission
trip organized by St. Andrew ...