Calif. school district threatens to terminate principal for endorsing prayer breakfast

ADF-allied attorney sues district for punishing principal who appeared in video for event honoring teachers
Tuesday, October 12, 2010

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — An ADF-allied attorney filed a lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of an elementary school principal against the Goleta Union School District after it threatened to end his contract for appearing in a short video promoting the 52nd Annual Community Prayer Breakfast to honor teachers. Foothill School Principal Craig Richter, a Christian, did not participate in the event, which welcomed all religious faiths, but the district proceeded to discipline him for endorsing the event in the video.

“It’s ridiculous to punish and fire a Christian administrator simply because he wanted to honor teachers at an event that includes prayer,” said ADF Senior Counsel Joseph Infranco. “Principal Richter did absolutely nothing wrong by appearing in the ad, which welcomed all Santa Barbara community members to join the half-century-old community event. The district’s contention that he was somehow violating the Constitution is not only unfounded, but absurd, as the video itself demonstrates.”

In March, Richter appeared for 30 seconds in the video with a Santa Barbara-area school superintendent and a local teacher. Organizers of the prayer breakfast designed the video to promote the event to local business owners who might also wish to honor teachers.

Richter identified himself in the video as the principal of Foothill School. Though he did not mention the school district, district officials incorrectly charged that he identified himself in the video as a principal in the district and that this implied its support of the event. Richter and Foothill School teachers ultimately did not attend the event because the district decided not to participate. It said that traffic safety and the possibility of teachers returning from the event too late to let students into their classrooms on time were the reasons for not participating. The district gave no indication at the time about its objection to the event because of perceived concerns about promoting religion.

After a district board member viewed the video on the Internet and complained, the district wrongly concluded that Richter crossed the line in the so-called “separation between church and state” and subsequently threatened to end his contract in March 2011--placing him on a disciplinary “performance plan.”

“Personally endorsing a prayer event that invites people of all faiths to honor teachers should not be twisted into a constitutional violation,” said William Rehwald, who is serving as lead counsel in the case and is one of more than 1,800 attorneys in the ADF alliance. “Principal Richter did a good thing, not a bad thing, and should keep his job.”

The lawsuit Richter v. Goleta Union School District was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
  • Pronunciation guide: Rehwald (RAY’-wald); Infranco (in-FRANK’-oh)
ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.