Arizona Christian University asks WESD to resume accepting student-teachers

The heated battle between the Washington Elementary School District and Arizona Christian University, has gone from the school board chambers to federal court.
Published: Apr. 11, 2023 at 6:05 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- The heated battle between the Washington Elementary School District and Arizona Christian University has gone from the school board chambers to federal court. ACU has filed a lawsuit claiming religious discrimination, accusing school board members of ending their relationship with ACU based on its religious beliefs.

A federal judge heard arguments from both sides Tuesday. “We are not here about a disputed contract; it’s not about that at all,” said attorney David Cortman with the Alliance Defending Freedom. “We’re not even here about what the contract should look like. The point is when you terminate a contract for unconstitutional reasons, when you do so because you say ‘I don’t like what your beliefs are, so I don’t have legal relationship with you,’ that’s discrimination.”

Washington School Board members voted unanimously in February to stop bringing in student-teachers from the private religious college, stating that the district’s values don’t align with ACU. ACU instructs students and faculty to spread their religious beliefs and requires them to sign a statement of faith with anti-LGBTQ principles.

The decision led to widespread protests and became national news. ”The district doesn’t want any student with two dads to feel shamed by a teacher,” said Washington Elementary School District attorney Robert Haws. “The board has an obligation to not only make sure religious rights are honored, but to make sure other rights are honored and that includes LGBTQ rights.”

ACU attorneys are requesting an immediate injunction requiring the school district to accept student-teachers for another year. “We’re hopeful the court will grant the injunction‚ and that’s for the immediacy of making sure all scheduling gets set for teachers in the fall,” said Cortman. “But the case will continue regardless of whether the injunction is granted or not.”

The judge is expected to make a ruling on the injunction request within the next few days.