Religious intolerance in southeast Delaware school districts
Jewish and Muslim families flee Indian River and Cape Henlopen districts
Jewish families settle lawsuit against Delaware school district that sponsored religion
"Jane Doe" plaintiff tells of her family's experience in exclusive interview with JewsOnFirst.org
by JewsOnFirst.org, February 26, 2008
Two Jewish families who sued a Delaware school district for unconstitutionally sponsoring religion announced today that they have reached a negotiated settlement with the district. The settlement will require the Indian River School District, which spreads over a large part of southeast Delaware, to implement new policies regarding religion. It also provides compensation to the two families, whose children suffered religious discrimination.
Last year JewsOnFirst reported on the case, focusing on the Dobrich family, who felt compelled by threats and anti-semitic harassment to move away from the community. Today we focus on the other family, named "Doe" in the lawsuit, who remained in the school district during the almost three years since the filing of the lawsuit.
Now Jane Doe has given an exclusive interview to JewsOnFirst.org, describing her family's experiences leading up to the lawsuit and while the litigation was going on. Doe said she played a significant role in writing the new policies on religion for the school district. She said that, while the settlement lacks some points the families hoped to win at trial, "it gets enforceable and constitutional policies into place immediately." Continue.
Jewish family flees Delaware school district's aggressive Christianity
by JewsOnFirst.org, June 28, 2006
A large Delaware school district promoted Christianity so aggressively that a Jewish family felt it necessary to move to Wilmington, two hours away, because they feared retaliation for filing a lawsuit. The religion (if any) of a second family in the lawsuit is not known, because they're suing as Jane and John Doe; they also fear retaliation. Both families are asking relief from "state-sponsored religion."
Their suit describes how the graduation of the sole Jewish student in her class was ruined by a pastor asking in Jesus' name that the "Father" be with "one specific student...and guide her in the path that You have for her." It also describes how a crowd of adults at a school board meeting yelled at her little brother to take off his yarmulke and how his classmates called him "Christ killer." Please click here.
Follow-up: Bloggers make JewsOnFirst report on Delaware Jewish family a national sensation
Anti-ACLU websites published Jewish family's address, phone
by JewsOnFirst.org, July 11, 2006
When major blogs picked up the story of the Dobrich family that fled the aggressive Christianity of Delaware's Indian River School Districts, readers sent expressions of support. The blogs "outed" a religious right anti-ACLU website that encouraged more persecution of the Dobrich family. Please click here.
Delaware district might be using families' lawsuit against it for Supreme Court test
Rutherford Institute encouraging risky school board strategy
by Jane Hunter, JewsOnFirst.org, July 11, 2006
JewsOnFirst breaks the story that the Indian River School District, urged on by the Rutherford Institute, a religious right legal group, might be planning to use the Dobrich and Doe families' lawsuit against it as a Supreme Court test case for school board prayer policies. The Rutherford Institute has been encouraging the Indian River School District board to make decisions favoring religious stances. Please click here
Delaware school district pursues reckless policy
District sued for religious oppression gets in legal mess with insurer over a trifle
by JewsOnFirst.org, August 24, 2006
Court documents unsealed this week show that the Indian River School District in southeastern Delaware gave the most trifling of reasons for defying the insurance company defending it in a lawsuit over its policies favoring Christianity and creating an atmosphere of religious intolerance.
Statements in the unsealed documents suggest that, in scuttling a proposed settlement which its own members negotiated, the district was intentionally rupturing relations with its insurer. That behavior is consistent with JewsOnFirst's report earlier this month that the Rutherford Institute, a conservative Christian legal organization, was encouraging district board members to pursue the lawsuit as a Supreme Court test, rather than settle it. Continue.
Dobrich and Doe vs. Indian River School District
Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint
Caution. This PDF file is very large. Please click here.
Indian River School District's answer to the Dobrich and Doe families' amendement complaint
Case No. 1:05-cv-00120-JJF Dobrich et al v. Walls et al, filed July 12, 2006
This answer by the school district is the most recent major document in the lawsuit filed by the Dobrich and Doe families against the Indian River School District. Click here.
Unsealed Court documents in related lawsuit against the school district by its insurance company
The documents immediately below are from Case No. 1:06-cv-00246-JJF in United States District Court for the District of Delaware, entitled Graphic Arts Mutual Insurance Company vs. Indian River School District et al. Please note that they are in PDF format.
Graphic Arts Mutual Insurance Company's complaint against Indian River School District
filed April 12, 2006
In this complaint the insurer asks the court to declare the district in breach of its insurance contract. Click here.
Indian River School District's answer to the insurer's complaint
filed June 13, 2006
In this document the district argues that the insurer's negotiated settlement proposal conflicted with the board's policy-making process. It took particular offense at a paragraph binding it to the policies adopted as part of the settlement. Click here.
Graphic Arts Mutual Insurance Company's answer to the school board's counterclaim
filed August 14, 2006
In this response to the Indian River School Board's demand that it resume defending it against the Dobrich and Doe families' lawsuit, Graphic Arts says it has no further obligation to the school district. It also says that, by failing to give "timely" notification that it might be sued for a "wrongful act," the district might have forfeited coverage. Please click here.
Graphic Arts Mutual Insurance Company's motion to file its complaint under seal
filed April 12, 2006
The request was made on the grounds that the insurers' lawyers had not yet ascertained who the defense attorneys would be. Please click here.
School Prayer at Commencement/Graduation and Baccalaureate Ceremonies
The Indian River School District's policy, posted June 2006. Click here for the PDF file.
Board Prayer At Regular Board Meetings
The Indian River School District's policy, posted in late June 2006, but dated October 19, 2004. Click here for the PDF file.
Families Challenging Religious Influence in Delaware Schools
By Neela Banerjee, The New York Times, July 29, 2006
GEORGETOWN, Del. - After her family moved to this small town 30 years ago, Mona Dobrich grew up as the only Jew in school. Mrs. Dobrich, 39, married a local man, bought the house behind her parents' home and brought up her two children as Jews.
For years, she and her daughter, Samantha, listened to Christian prayers at public school potlucks, award dinners and parent-teacher group meetings, she said. But at Samantha's high school graduation in June 2004, a minister's prayer proclaiming Jesus as the only way to the truth nudged Mrs. Dobrich to act. Continue
The Power of Prayer
by Lynn R. Parks, Delaware Beach Life, July 2006
Betty Morris doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about. When she went to school, she and her classmates recited and listened to Christian prayer. And she doesn’t see why, when it comes to prayer at a school event, the objections of the few who disagree with what is being said should make a difference. Continue
IRSD prayer suit draws plenty of attention
By Jonathan Starkey, Coastal Point (Sussex County, Delaware), July 21, 2006 Staff Reporter
Nearly two years after the Jewish Dobrich family complained about Indian River School District’s religiously “exclusive” environment, bloggers, civil rights organizations and discussion forums on the Internet have cast a national spotlight on the First Amendment case the Dobriches filed in federal court in early 2005.
A civil-rights Web site called jewsonfirst.org first posted a story about the Dobriches’ situation on June 29, which has sparked the national interest that at least one school board member finds puzzling. Continue
Petitions duel over prayer in school
By Jonathan Starkey, Coastal Point (southeastern Delaware), August 18, 2006
Since two families — one Jewish and another that remains anonymous — filed a First Amendment lawsuit against the Indian River School District early last year for alleged violations of their freedom of religion, local attention has been affixed to the issue.
In June, a national civil rights Web site called www.jewsonfirst.org picked up the story and tossed the prayer suit under a national spotlight. Since then, bloggers across the country — and the New York Times — have run stories about this issue that seems to transcend local boundaries.
And now, some local and national opinions are clashing in two contrasting petitions. Continue
Board prayer allowed with settlement
By Jonathan Starkey, Coastal Point (Sussex County, Delaware), June 16, 2006
A settlement offered by the plaintiffs in the Dobrich/Doe prayer suit and denied unanimously by the Indian River School board on Feb. 27 would have allowed board members to continue opening monthly meetings with a prayer, a board member and two other sources close to the case told the Coastal Point. Click here for the report (a PDF file).
School board to discuss religion policy
By Jonathan Starkey, Coastal Point (Sussex County, Delaware), June 23, 2006
The policies regarding prayer at graduations and religion in school that were adopted by the Indian River School Board on Oct. 19, 2004, after they heard complaints from a Jewish family, might be amended next week.
The board held a first reading on the amended ordinances Tuesday but deferred a vote until after an executive session on Tuesday, June 27. Board members and district Superintendent Lois Hobbs wouldn’t comment on the specifics of the proposed amendments. Click here for the report (a PDF file).
School prayer lawsuit filed against district
By Sean O'Sullivan, Gannett News Service, Delaware Wave, March 2, 2005
Two sets of parents filed a federal lawsuit in Wilmington on Monday that seeks to bar the Indian River School District from promoting religion at school functions.
The parents, who also are seeking damages, claim in the lawsuit that their rights to free speech and to be free from state-sponsored religion have been violated.
"We didn't want a lawsuit, but at this point we feel like we don't have any other choice," said Mona Dobrich, one of the parents, in a statement provided by attorney Thomas J. Allingham. "We are not trying to remove God from the schools or the public square. We simply don't think it is right for the district to impose a particular religious view on impressionable students." Continue
School district disputes lawsuit
By Sean O'Sullivan, Gannett News Service, Delaware Wave, May 4, 2005
WILMINGTON -- Indian River school officials have filed papers in federal court denying virtually every claim in a Jewish family's lawsuit over school-sponsored Christian prayer.
John Balaguer, attorney for the school district, also asked a U.S. District judge to strike large sections of the complaint as "immaterial, impertinent and scandalous."
Balaguer said the items were included solely to cast the district in a negative light. Continue
ACLU Sues to Stop School Board Prayer: Dobrich v. Walls
Rutherford Institute website entry on the Dobrich case.
Please note: the ACLU is not involved in the case!
Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware to dismiss a lawsuit recently filed by the ACLU against Reginald Helms in his official capacity as a member of the Indian River School District Board of Education. The lawsuit, which was filed by the ACLU in February 2005 against school board members in their personal and professional capacities, alleges that school- sponsored prayer “has pervaded the life of teachers and students” in the Indian River District schools. In their motion to have the case dismissed, Institute attorneys argue that as a school board member, Helms should have immunity from liability claims under the established doctrine of absolute legislative immunity.
An official with the Indian River School District Board of Education contacted The Rutherford Institute for help in August 2004, after the Wilmington, Del., branch of the ACLU demanded that IRSD board members stop opening their monthly business meetings with a prayer. Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute agreed to represent Reginald Helms, vice president of the IRSD Board of Education, in his individual capacity should the Delaware school district’s practice of opening meetings with a brief prayer be challenged. Despite pressure from the Wilmington chapter of the ACLU to cease issuing prayers at public events, officials with the IRSD opened a school board meeting on Aug. 24, 2004, with a brief invocation. Several hundred members of the community gathered at Frankford Elementary School for the monthly business meeting broke into applause after Board President Harvey Walls asked board member Dr. Donald G. Hattier to lead the board in a word of prayer. Hattier read a prayer given by George Washington during the Revolutionary War. During the business meeting, the board also issued a first reading of a policy concerning school prayer at baccalaureate and commencement ceremonies, which states that student-initiated, student-delivered, voluntary messages may be permitted during graduation ceremonies. Thomas Neuberger, a Rutherford affiliate attorney with the Neuberger Firm, which is based in Wilmington, Del., is defending school board member Reginald Helms against the ACLU’s lawsuit. (link)
Alternative settlement in IR suit offered
Earlier agreement had been rejected by school board
By ESTEBAN PARRA, The News Journal, August 23, 2006
A day after a federal judge unsealed a lawsuit detailing reasons the Indian River School District rejected a settlement in a school prayer case, the district's attorney said it has drawn up an alternative settlement.
That new agreement was presented last month to the two families suing Indian River, according to Jason P. Gosselin, attorney for the school district. Continue.
Reader takes issue with comments in Point
Letter to editor, Alicia Beach Halverstadt, Coastal Point, September 8, 2006
Is it not obvious to all that comments like those of Ms. Walker of [a local restaurant] only increase religious/personal intolerance? Our nation was founded on tolerance. How sad that in recent years our values seem to be changing. I realize that people feel strongly about their religions, but the fact is that there is room in this world for many beliefs. Continue. (Look for this letter in the middle of the page.)
Intolerance should not be the lesson learned
Letter to Editor by Lee Guarna, Coastal Point, September 8, 2006
What an interesting word I have read throughout the local media in the past months.
Do those who are reporting that the Indian River School District is intolerant of others really understand what this community is all about? I say that those preaching this rhetoric need to take a look at how this community has been for many years, prior to their implantation. Continue. (Look for this letter in the middle of the page.)
Letter-writer furthers discrimination problem
Letter to Editor by Stuart Snyder, Coastal Point, September 8, 2006
Over a year ago, I read of the suit involving the Dobrich family and the Indian River School District in your paper. It happened to be in an edition that featured the anniversary of the desegregation of Delaware schools. There was a lengthy article with pictures with an historical perspective of discrimination in our schools.
When I read of the incidents involving the Dobrich family and their treatment in the schools, I actually thought it was a related article to the one I read about discrimination. I thought it was another story of the Indian River School District back in the 1950’s. I had to read it twice to believe that this incident was current.
Mr. Valenti’s claims regarding the Indian River School District suit supported by the ACLU are echoing of the Christian majority being the victims of the suit. The taxpayers who fund the district are the true victims of the Board itself. Continue. (Look for this letter in the middle of the page.)
Suing for having prayer in school
Letter from Charles N. Valenti, Daily Times, August 23, 2006
A recent article in the New York Times went out of its way to report on the lawsuit that a Delawarean is pressing against the Indian River School District for allegedly allowing a prayer during a high school graduation which included her daughter while she and her family attended. She professed to be so offended by the mention of Jesus Christ during the prayer of benediction on the students that she and the ACLU are seeking a settlement of reputed six figures for the alleged offense.
The article portrays a Mrs. Dobrich as someone who has been victimized, whereas the truth seems to be the opposite. A study of the facts surrounding that case shows that there was no intentional offense against her nor was any religious thing forced upon her. She just happened to be present at a public gathering. It was a case of a person who refused to allow others the privilege of religious expression in her presence. Continue
Indian River school board doesn't grasp the difference
Letter to the Editor by Nancy D. Dean, responding to letter from Charles Valenti
DelawareOnLine.Com, News-Journal, September 10, 2006.
A version of Valenti's letter was also published by the News-Journal, which subsequently published Dean's response. She wrote: "A recent letter attempted to characterize the Indian River School District as a generous hostess, saying that students and families of Jewish, Islamic or any other religion should happily accept the offerings of Christian prayers with good grace. That analogy is a false premise.
"If Indian River were a private Christian school, then it would have the right to offer Christian prayers and any other religious ritual it desired and expect them to be accepted. But this is a public school. Even if the majority of students come from Christian backgrounds, the school is for all the people, for the study of subjects outside the bounds of any one religion. .Click to continue reading Dean's letter, (half-way down the page.)
Religious harassment of Muslim family by southeast Delaware school district
by JewsOnFirst.org, October 12, 2006
Links to documents cited in this report immediately follow it.
Religious harassment in a southeast Delaware school district traumatized two young Muslim girls and prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene. The family moved to another school district and filed suit against the Cape Henlopen School District. The case paints an appalling picture of school officials fostering a campaign against girls, ages 10 and 11, by their classmates.
The Cape Henlopen district is in the same county as the Indian River School District, where officials' aggressive Christianity prompted a lawsuit by two families and forced one of them, a Jewish family, to flee the district. Continue.
Jane Doe, Nancy Doe, Mary Doe and Susan Doe v. Cape Henlopen School District, Dane Brandenberger, Janet Maull and Cindy Cunningham
Plaintiffs' Complaint, June 23, 2005
Please click here to read this PDF document.
Jane Doe, Nancy Doe, Mary Doe and Susan Doe v. Cape Henlopen School District, Dane Brandenberger, Janet Maull and Cindy Cunningham
Defendants' Answer to the Complaint, September 12, 2005
Please click here to read this PDF document.
Enforcement and Outreach Following the September 11 Terrorist Attacks
United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, last updated August 16, 2006
The Dept. lists the Cape Henlopen case first among the harassment cases. Click here. .
Civil Rights Division Settles Muslim Student Harassment Case
United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Religious Freedom In Focus, March 2005
On March 1, the Civil Rights Division settled a case in which a Delaware student alleged she was harassed by a teacher because of her faith. In May 2004, the Department of Justice received a complaint that a teacher in the Cape Henlopen School District had harassed a fourth-grade Muslim girl, and that school officials had not taken adequate action in response. The Civil Rights Division opened an investigation, which was resolved by the March 1 settlement agreement. The girl and her parents alleged that her teacher told the class that the “Koran teaches war and hatred” and made similar statements. They also alleged that the teacher had directed comments at the girl, such as ridiculing her because her mother wore a headscarf. These incidents led to severe ridicule by other students. The complaint also alleged that the same teacher also proselytized her students. As a result of the teacher’s actions, the Muslim girl experienced great distress and missed many days of school. When her parents complained, the school assigned the girl to a new class, but took no significant other action.
In the settlement agreement reached between the school district and the Civil Rights Division, the school agreed to provide teacher training on diversity and the school’s policies regarding religious expression, to provide a tolerance education program for all K-5 students, and to create specific performance expectations for the teacher and ensure that she achieves them.
“We are pleased that this case has been resolved without recourse to a lawsuit,” said R. Alexander Acosta, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. “No student’s faith should be attacked by school employees, whose job it is to teach all children. Our country has long had a rich diversity of faith traditions, and the Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that people of all faiths are welcomed in our public institutions.” Click here for the Dept. of Justice page from which this was copied.
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