A proposed lease between the city of Stamford and St. Clement's Parish for public school instructional space, which prohibits certain topics of classroom discussion on purely religious grounds, would violate the First Amendment.
The lease, which would provide space for an alternative high school program in a church-owned building, is scheduled for a final vote by the Stamford Board of Representatives at its meeting Monday, Feb. 6, 2012, at 8 p.m. in the Legislative Chambers at Government Center in Stamford.
"This contract shows a fundamental disrespect for the First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and religion," said Andrew Schneider, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut. "The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut urges the Stamford Board of Representatives to reject it."
Among the objectionable provisions of the lease are:
• A ban on "any instructional, operational programming or general counseling related to the Health, Sex Education or Family Life curriculum of the Stamford Board of Education."
• In order to protect the church from "embarrassment, ridicule [and] damage to reputation," the city must ban any speech or action on the premises which contradicts "the teachings, laws or moral doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church."
• The bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport has the "sole and absolute authority in deciding whether certain speech or action does contradict Roman Catholic teachings, laws or moral doctrines."
• If the church tells the city that "such contradictory speech or action is occurring" the city must take "any and all actions necessary to bring such speech or action to an immediate halt."
• Public school employees working on the property must complete a Roman Catholic training program on "child safety and abuse prevention." The program is described on the Diocese of Bridgeport's website as "Protecting God's Children for Adults."
• The city agrees to pay the costs of any legal action brought by the church to enforce the terms of the lease.
"Public school students' education shouldn't be limited or dictated by any religious institution and public school teachers should never be forced to submit to religious training," said Sandra Staub, legal director of the ACLU of Connecticut. "Should this blatantly unconstitutional lease be approved, the ACLU of Connecticut stands ready to help any family with a legal challenge in defense of their constitutional rights."
- February 3, 2012
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