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‘Blatant discrimination’: Christian university sues local school district that dropped its student-teachers for having biblical views

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“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.”

–DAVID CORTMAN, ADF

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has filed a lawsuit in federal district court after the Washington Elementary School District (WESD) voted to sever its contract with Arizona Christian University (ACU) to provide student-teachers due solely to the school’s biblical views on marriage and sexuality.


Quick Facts


For 11 years, ACU and WESD, which serves Phoenix and Glendale and is the largest elementary school district in Arizona, had a mutually beneficial partnership through which students in the university’s elementary educational program would student-teach and shadow teachers in the school district. The ACU’s education students gained the real-world experience needed to graduate, and the school district benefited by getting free teaching assistance. There were never any complaints about the student-teachers; in fact, several ACU graduates who had worked as student-teachers at a WESD school were later hired on by the district as full-time, permanent teachers.

Two weeks ago, the newly appointed WESD school board voted unanimously to cut ties with ACU, citing “safety” concerns and “solidarity” with the LGBTQ community and the need to ensure that students in the district’s 32 schools would not be “explicitly” discriminated against.

Several of the school board members are openly and actively LGBTQ. Tamillia Valenzuela, who describes herself on the district website as “a bilingual, disabled, neurodivergent Queer Black Latina” and is depicted wearing furry black cat ears with jingle bells attached, led the initiative.

Valenzuela said her concerns about ACU are specifically with regard to their mission to “influence, engage, and transform the culture with truth by promoting the biblically informed values that are foundational to Western civilization.” Values to which they adhere, she noted, include “traditional sexual morality and lifelong marriage between one man and one woman.”

Valenzuela told her fellow board members,

“At some point we need to get real with ourselves and take a look [at] who we are making legal contracts with and the message that that is sending to our community because that makes me feel like I could not be safe in this school district. That makes queer kids who are already facing attack from our lawmakers feel that they could not be safe in this community.”

Valenzuela also emphasized that the school district’s vision for “achieving excellence for every child” did not align with ACU’s priority to, “above all else, be committed to Jesus Christ, accomplishing His will, and advancing His kingdom on earth as in heaven.”

Another newly-elected school board member, Kyle Clayton, expressed worries that students from ACU might teach through a “biblical lens.”’

“I just don’t believe that belongs in schools,” he said, adding, “I would never want my son to talk about his two dads and be shamed by a teacher who believed a certain way and is at a school that demands that they teach through their biblical lens.”

School board chairwoman Nikkie Gomez-Whaley agreed with the sentiments of Clayton and Valenzuela, clarifying that the issue with ACU is not the fact that they are a Christian school, but that they hold to a “strong anti-LGBTQ stance.”

“For me, this is not a concern about Christianity. There are plenty of Christian denominations who are LGBTQ friendly so I want to make it clear that for me my pause is not that they’re Christians so much as this particular institution’s strong anti-LGBTQ stance and their belief that you believe this to your core and you take it out into the world,” she said.

Despite the fact that students at ACU must sign legal documents agreeing to abide by the district’s non-discrimination policies before working on campus, Gomez-Whaley made the determination that ACU’s Christian students cannot separate their personal convictions from their work.

“I simply don’t know how a piece of paper can change somebody’s underlying value system. Even though they may not … do anything illegal, where they are preaching or using Bible verses, how do you shut off an essential part of your being, and not be biased to the individuals in which you are in charge of nurturing and supporting unconditionally?” she asked. “I don’t see how that disconnect is possible.”

The lawsuit notes that after the vote Valenzuela took to Facebook to post how “excited” she was that the WESD’s relationship with ACU had been terminated.

In a press release, David Cortman, ADF senior counsel and vice president of U.S. litigation, stated:

“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. 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.”

ADF Senior Counsel Ryan Tucker, who also serves as director of the ADF Center for Christian Ministries, added,

“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. 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.”

Dr. Linnea Lyding, dean of the Shelly Roden School of Education and the School of Arts, Science, and Humanities at ACU, explained that ACU’s students “bring respect, kindness, and excellence to the elementary classrooms. 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.”

In today’s filing, ACU asked the court to immediately reinstate the student-teaching contract with ACU and to prohibit the school from inflicting any future discrimination against ACU or its students.

In addition to seeking compensatory and nominal damages from WESD, ACU is asking the court to award punitive damages against the five individual school board members in their personal capacity due to blatant and ongoing constitutional violations.

While not at all surprising considering the state of radicalism that has become so widely accepted, particularly in school districts, the decision by WESD school board to end its contract with ACU reveals just how much disdain the LGBTQ wokesters have for Christians.

The action that these school board members have taken against college students working to earn their degree is based not on anything students have done in violation of the district’s policies but on what they believe. This isn’t just a blatant violation of the First Amendment, but it is typical of people who hate God and hate the truth.

There is great irony in the fact that progressive idealogues like Valenzuela demand conformity and conversion to her religion of pagan secularism. That’s what all of this is about. In the name of “protecting students from discrimination,” the school board has made an executive decision to punish ACU and its students for not converting to their religion of depravity that denies the truth about men and women, advances perverted views on sexuality, and grooms young children into believing that they were born in the wrong body.

But ACU is a Christian university, and they won’t do that (and they shouldn’t). The school board knows that — which is why they have cut ties with ACU altogether. However, there is no doubt that if the college were called “Arizona Islam University,” school board members would hardly have anything to say, despite the fact that the Quran itself defines homosexuality as a forbidden act.

Perhaps the school board members at WESD see Christianity as a threat because its teachings are true…and they know it.

Romans 1:18-20 says,

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”

They know the truth that men are men and women are women, and they deny it. They know the truth that one man belongs with one woman to create a safe and stable home for a child, but they deny it. They know that Christ is Lord and rules and reigns over all things, but they deny it. They love their sin much more, and they will stop at nothing to try to avoid the call to righteousness — which is why they persecute “all those who desire to live a godly life” (2 Timothy 3:12).

No unbeliever wants to persecute someone who is living like they are. It is only because ACU is holding to biblical convictions that WESD school board members decided to shun and shame the university. This should be an encouragement to the students of ACU. And not only is this good news, but it is also good news that the law is on their side.

Pray that the judge recognizes this blatant religious discrimination and all the constitutional violations and rules in such a way that radical school board members across the country will finally and clearly learn that they don’t have a right to establish their own state-sanctioned religion or run roughshod over other Americans who hold different religious beliefs.


Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.

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