Grayson Mobley stood Monday night in front of about a hundred people who sat at tables and stood between book cases in a library at Bret Harte High to hear him challenge a school district policy that prohibits discussion of religion in science classes.
“I’m here tonight to safeguard my constitutional rights,” Grayson, a 16-year-old sophomore at the public high school, said aloud, reading from notes, to the five-member district board and the crowd in front of him. “Free speech is granted to all American citizens, including minors. I am an American citizen.”
Grayson, who attended grades 1 through 8 at Christian Family Learning Center in Angels Camp, is now a straight A student at Bret Harte High and he has received math and science awards, his father and his family’s attorney say. He received applause at the end of his speech and returned to his seat with his parents.
“When he walked into science class his teacher said any notion of God or creation needs to be left outside the classroom,” Grayson’s father, Troy Mobley, said in a phone interview before the meeting. “That was the ground rules at the beginning of the year. Grayson is not trying to argue about it. He never brought it up. He’s being told right from the get-go don’t even bring it up. He feels like his freedom of speech right is being taken away.”
Troy Mobley says he and his family practice their faith at Church of the Nazarene in Sutter Creek and Mountain Ranch Community Church. Back when he attended Christian Family Learning Center, Grayson studied creationism, his father said.
“Creationism is that God created the heavens and earth, and that’s what he was taught and that’s what we believe,” Troy Mobley said. “He’s not allowed to say anything in class and he doesn't because he wants to be compliant.”
Greg Glaser, a Copperopolis attorney, is representing the Mobleys. He asked for the time to address the district board, who scheduled their Monday meeting in the library to accommodate the expected crowd.
“I ask the school to allow what the Supreme Court allows and what the California Department of Education allows,” Glaser said.
Glaser introduced several speakers after Grayson, including Dr. Jeff Whitman, a resident of Columbia who said he’s known Grayson about 10 years, and Pastor Kevin Diamond of San Andreas Community Covenant Church, who brought a petition with more than a hundred signatures urging the board to amend their policy.
Room for debate?
Whitman, who graduated from Columbia Elementary, Sonora High and earned his doctorate at the University of California, Davis, said, “I’m here to support Grayson. I have watched this young man grow up and I am in awe of the man he is becoming. I know him to be a humble, respectful, honest and kind young person.”
Whitman said what he admires most about Grayson are his deep personal convictions and his desire for truth and honesty.
“For someone to say that ‘science is fact and religion is faith’ is just an incomplete statement of a question,” Whitman said. “Allowing Bret Harte science students to constructively and relevantly express their viewpoints is a good solution. It respects the Constitution, and it encourages critical thinking in an American academic environment.”
Whitman also urged the district board to place a potential policy change on the agenda for their next meeting.
Diamond told the board and the crowd he had addressed the same free speech issues as a high school student years ago in Ohio, and he said he is a graduate of Ohio State University. Eying a green, speckled frog painted on a wall above tables where district board members were sitting, Diamond said it was time for some levity.
“If a princess kisses a frog and it becomes a prince, that’s called a fairy tale,” Diamond said. “But if a frog becomes a prince over millions of years, it’s called science.”
People laughed and applauded. Diamond shared a copy of the petition.
Joan Lark, board president, told Glaser, “We will discuss the legality of this policy with our legal counsel after this meeting.”
Before the meeting Monday, Glaser was asked is he would sue the district board if they do not revise their policy.
“We are hopeful the board will do the right thing and restore the Constitution to Bret Harte,” Glaser responded. “However, if the board clings to this unconstitutional policy, then my clients are prepared to litigate.”
Michael Chimente, the district superintendent, said before the meeting the board had Glaser’s appearance listed as “informational” only.
The district’s policy states: “Philosophical and religious theories are based, at least in part, on faith, and are not subject to scientific test and refutation. Such beliefs shall not be discussed in science classes, but may be addressed in the social science and language arts curricula.”
Chimente says the policy comes from the California School Boards Association, also known as CSBA.
“The District has no reason to believe that CSBA's policies do not comply with the current state of the law,” Chimente said Monday.
According to the Mobleys and Glaser, Grayson’s science teacher, Jerre Maurer, told students on the first day of school in August, “Leave all ideas and notions about God outside my classroom” and “Science is fact and religion is faith.”
In September, Grayson’s mother, Lisa Mobley, received an email from Kylee Luchetti, Bret Harte High principal, saying in part, “Ms. Maurer’s statement that God/religion would not be discussed during class time is in line with Board Policy at this time.”
Glaser says California State Board of Education policy allows for discussion of religion in science classes.
“I don't know why Bret Harte policy does not,” Glaser said.
No plan to proselytize
If Glaser and the Mobley family can convince the school district board to amend their policy, “Grayson will not proselytize or redirect scientific discussions off-topic,” Glaser said.
Grayson's intent is that if he observes that class discussion descends to scientism, a point of view that only modern scientific theory can explain life, then Grayson would like to politely exercise his right to offer his perspective in the discussion, namely, that God created life, Glaser said.
“Our goal is simple,” Glaser said. “We're asking the board to lift their ban on God in science class.”
Christian Family Learning Center, where Grayson attended grades 1 through 8, was founded in 1991 as an elementary and junior high school, owned and operated by parents of the students. It’s billed as an interdenominational school and is a member of the Association of Christian Schools International.
Sara Roeder, an Angels Camp resident and a board member at Christian Family Learning Center, said she came to the meeting Monday night to support free speech.
“I believe in the Constitution,” Roeder said. “Censoring students is not the answer. We should allow our children to have intellectual debates, not stifle them.”