CoA Prayer Lawsuit Can Move Forward

Federal judge refuses to dismiss case

U.S. District Judge Susan Illston has refused the College of Alameda's attempts to have a case involving students' right to pray thrown out of court. Students Kandy Kyriacou and Ojoma Omaga are alleging that the college violated their First Amendment rights when a teacher stopped Kyriacou from praying, and then told both defendants that they could not pray.

Just before Christmas 2007 Kandy Kyriacou and Ojoma Omaga wanted to give a present to one of their teachers at the College of Alameda. Kyriacou found the instructor who said she was not feeling well. According to the Pacific Justice Institute, Kyriacou offered to pray for her. When she started her prayer faculty member Derek Piazza, who shared the office with the sick instructor, stepped in and interrupted her saying she was not allowed to pray. Kyriacou stopped and left the office and found Omaga. Piazza followed her and repeated his rebuke to both students.

The students reported Piazza's behavior. In return they got letters from the college threatening to suspend them. PJI says that the letters provided no facts on which to make such a threat, listing only vague references to "disruptive or insulting behavior" and "willful disobedience."

During the administrative hearing that followed, college officials told Kyriacou they were disciplining her for praying for the sick teacher. Omaga was not part of the prayer; she was told her offense was being with Kyriacou when Piazza admonished the pair a short time later. The students asked the administrators to rescind the letter. The school refused, and Kyriacou and Omaga filed a lawsuit.

They turned to PJI for help and the institute assigned the case to the Walnut Creek firm of Bergquist, Wood and Anderson "To this day, the College of Alameda has never provided a real explanation for its threats to expel these students," said Steven N.H. Wood, an attorney with the firm.

PJI president Brad Dacus called the situation outrageous. "Since when does praying for a sick teacher to get well — with her consent — earn a suspension?" he asked in a Catholic News Agency story. "This is not just a constitutional violation; it is a complete lack of common sense. These students were not looking for a fight, but since the school to this day insists that it can expel them if they pray again, we will have to resolve it in federal court."

Dacus called the rights of students to pray in public places or in colleges or universities is "the most fundamental protection of the free exercise of religion that we can imagine."


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