California school district accepts Scientology scholarships while banning atheist ones

A new lawsuit filed in federal court last week accuses California’s Antelope Valley Union School Board of refusing to include scholarship offers from atheists while allowing them from The Church of Scientology.

According to Courthouse News Service, the Freedom From Religion Foundation “annually offers $17,950 in college scholarships, and the Antelope Valley Freethinkers offered $1,750 in scholarships to three winners.” Both groups required applicants to submit an essay on being a “nonbeliever” or “freethinker.”

“Both say the school district and Palmdale High School refused to make their scholarship announcements available to students, though the district did announce other scholarship offers that “solicited religious speech, required applicants to be religious, and dealt with the historically controversial topics of homosexuality and guns,” the report goes on to say.

Both groups claim that they were censored because “their message is nonreligious, critical of religion, and controversial.”

From Courthouse News Service:

Freethinkers president David Dionne, a plaintiff, says in the lawsuit that Deputy Superintendent Jeff Foster told him that “he couldn’t approve the scholarship the way it was worded because it would upset some parents. In particular, he cited the following sentence as particularly objectionable: ‘Perhaps you’ve been ridiculed, harassed, or punished for speaking up against religion in the classroom, at school events, in government, or within your family.'”

“We simply do not have the time to ‘word smith’ language that might be acceptable to the district and yet meet the intent of your organization,” Foster explained.

Atheist groups are now asking a federal judge to take action in forcing the district to stop suppressing free speech.

[RawStory] Featured image: Jeff Houze (Flickr)



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