- The Washington Times - Monday, September 23, 2002

A Texas school district has revised a policy that caused an employee to be censured for using her office e-mail to send President Bush's proclamation that designated May 2 as the National Day of Prayer 2002.
The communications policy of the Highland Park Independent School District in Dallas had allowed employees to send both private and work-related e-mails, provided they did not concern religion.
The Virginia-based American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) held that the policy "discriminated against religious speech," and six weeks ago it brought a federal lawsuit on behalf of LaDonna DeVore, a receptionist who works in the school district's administration offices.
Ms. DeVore was admonished by a supervisor for an e-mail she sent April 30 to school employees that contained a personal note and the full text of the White House proclamation about the National Day of Prayer that was scheduled for two days later.
The supervisor told Ms. DeVore that the e-mail was "inappropriate" and said it violated the policy that prohibited using the e-mail system for religious purposes.
The receptionist also was warned that further use of the e-mail system to send religious messages could result in suspension of her e-mail privileges.
The ACLJ, a religious rights public interest law firm, charged in its lawsuit that the actions of the Highland Park school district violated the First and 14th Amendments of the Constitution.
In a settlement agreement signed Thursday by the ACLJ and the school district, and filed with the U.S. District Court in Dallas, school officials said they have changed the e-mail policy and removed the restriction on "religious worship, or proselytizing" from the policy.
But it left in place the policy's ban on using the e-mail system for "commercial for-profit purposes or political purposes."
"We're pleased that the school district has amended its e-mail policy that discriminated against religious messages," said Stuart J. Roth, senior counsel for the ACLJ. In return, the law firm dropped its lawsuit.
According to that suit, a "broad array of private messages" was transmitted under the old e-mail policy. The list included jokes, chain letters, invitations, various pictures, "exhortations to encourage others" and a message about the September 11 terrorist attacks.
"When a school district permits employees to communicate via e-mail on a wide variety of topics in work-related and private messages it's not only discriminatory, but unconstitutional as well to exclude messages because they are religious in nature," Mr. Roth said in a statement that announced the settlement.
He added: "Unfortunately, it took a federal lawsuit to bring about a change in policy. But we're delighted with the result and encouraged that future e-mails that may include messages about the president's proclamation of a National Day of Prayer won't be targeted for exclusion."
As part of the agreement, the Highland Park school district has removed "invitations to church" and any similar religious speech as examples in its training sessions about messages that violate the e-mail policy.
In addition, the school district agreed to pay $5,000 to the plaintiff's attorneys in "fees and costs for the prosecution."
A lawyer for the school district said it had been planning to remove the religious restrictions from the e-mail policy at the time the ACLJ filed its complaint.


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