STILLWATER, Okla. (KOKH) — Stillwater resident Brice Chaffin and his lawyer Maria Seidler have filed a lawsuit against Stillwater Public Schools, alleging the school district violated his religious liberties at an April board of education meeting.
Chaffin referenced teachings from the Bible when speaking to the board on Apr. 12. The board shut off the microphone during his remarks, and police removed him from the room.
Several members of the Stillwater community brought up concerns over the school district's bathroom policies during the meeting's public comment period. The day's agenda did not include matters related to bathroom rules, but a number of parents and residents, including Chaffin, took issue with the district's anti-discrimination policy protecting "gender expression [and] identity," and how the policy would impact bathroom procedures regarding transgender students.
According to Seidler, chief counsel of Legal Overwatch for Parents' School Rights, the board's actions went against state law on religious freedom and parental rights.
The attorney shared that, "if you're a government agent or a government actor... you have to act a little more responsibly than what this school board did in the moment regarding people's freedom of speech that can be religious."
Seidler asserted that she wants the lawsuit to remind school boards across the state that, despite personal opinions, board members have to act within the law.
"There needs to be the ability of parents to speak openly about their beliefs, moral beliefs, religious beliefs, you know, general philosophy" at school board meetings, according to Seidler.
In July, a judge upheld the suit against the district, but dismissed charges against the school board as an entity. Each member of the board, however, is still a defendant in the case.
In their lawsuit, Chaffin and Seidler aren't seeking damages but are requesting payment for attorney's fees and a public apology.
Jenni White, president and education director for the group Reclaim Oklahoma Parent Empowerment, is weighing in on the case. The organization is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
In a written statement, White argued that, "Any member of the taxpaying community has the right to speak at a school board meeting. If you watch the video, it was clear that Mr. Chaffin was removed because he was predicating his comments on a Biblical worldview. According to the First Amendment our speech is protected from interference by the government and a school board is a governmental entity."
She further added that, "I'd just like the school boards to uphold the Constitution as they're required to pledge upon taking office. Free speech must include religious speech."
Stillwater Public Schools declined the chance to give an interview or provide a statement on the lawsuit.
The recording of the meeting is able to be viewed online.
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