A lawsuit against a California college that threatened to suspend a student caught offering a prayer for a sick teacher – and another student who happened to be nearby – has been settled with a college admission that prayer is allowed on campus.
The announcement comes from Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, which worked on the case on behalf of the students, Kandy Kyriacou and Ojoma Omaga.
The case against the College of Alameda was brought after the school threatened the students with expulsion after Kyriacou was spotted by another faculty member praying with the teacher.
Omaga’s offense apparently to accompany Kyriacou to the teacher’s office and be nearby at the time.
Although this case had a shocking start, we are gratified that it ended with the college eager to affirm that prayer is protected,” said Steven Wood, a lawyer for the students.
“At PJI we will remain vigilant and ready to defend other students who encounter such heavy-handed treatment,” said Dacus.
Officials with the school did not respond to WND requests for comment.
According to Pacific Justice, the settlement included an express statement from the school that prayer on campus is protected free speech and free exercise of religion.
The college also is paying the students’ attorneys fees, closing the two years of litigation over the issue.
The incident developed in December 2007 when an instructor at the college complained about a private, consensual prayer in a shared faculty office between a student and a sick teacher.
The institution issued formal notices of intent to suspend both the student and a bystander, held disciplinary hearings and imposed written warnings.
Pacific Justice Institute staff attorney Matthew McReynolds sent multiple demand letters advising the college of the students’ rights, but the administration declined to respond. A lawsuit then was filed in federal court against the institution.
A federal judge earlier refused the college’s demand that the case be dismissed. School officials had claimed prayer – like protests and demonstrations on campus – is presumptively disruptive.
U.S. District Judge Susan Illston instead ruled that prayer is protected speech under the First Amendment.
Kyriacou had gone to the office of an instructor to deliver a Christmas present. Court documents state, “When the instructor indicated she was ill, Kandy offered to pray for her. The instructor bowed her head, and Kandy began to pray – until she was interrupted by another faculty member, Derek Piazza, who walked in and said, ‘You can’t be doing that in here!'”
Kyriacou and Omaga then were notified by the school of plans to suspend them.