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Promotion Religion in Schools

The history of the case started on February 5, 2004 when Nicholas Rotolo was engaged in a hockey tournament at a skating rink and suffered a cardiac arrest. The skating rink was owned by San Hose Sports and Entertainment. Medical aid was given by two parents witnessing the event who administered CPR while 911 were notified of the emergency. While Albrecht and DePalma performed CPR until relived by the emergency medical personnel Rotolo did not survive. At some earlier time the Logitech Ice facility had installed at least one automatic external defibrillator (AED) in the facility. One of these devices was located near where Rotolo had collapsed and treatment begun. While the device was present nobody was aware that it was available.

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The parents of Nicholas Rotolo sued San Jose Sports and Entertainment, LLC; Silicon Valley Sports and Entertainment, LLC; and San Jose Arena management, LLC for negligence in the Superior Court of Santa Clara County. There suit was based on the special-relationship between the owners and those using the premise that the owners were responsible for informing individuals who where regularly used the facility of the presence and function of any medical device. Instead of assuming that all risk of injury belongs to the individuals participating in the event the operators also had a duty to minimize the inherent risk of use. The plaintiffs relied upon Morgan v. Fuji Country USA, Inc., supra, 34 Cal.App.4th 127 a case where a golfer sued the owners of the golf course by being hit by a ball. While the player assumed the risk of injury the court found that the owner had a duty to provide a reasonable safe golf course and required the owner to minimize the risk and could be held liable for comparative negligence if the design allowed an injury. The Superior Court ruled in favor of the defendants ruled that the secondary assumption of risk was not a factor in the case because the design of the complex did not contribute to the death and ruled in favor of the defendant.

The case was then appealed to the Court of Appeal of California, Sixth Appellate District with the focus on the special-relationship-based duty; holding the sports complex responsible for informing the individuals of the presence and location of any medical device that could assist in lifesaving efforts.

The Supreme Court upheld the judgment of the lower court and ruled that by California common law the owners were not required for the notifying individuals of the presence of medical devices. Because the defendant did nothing to increase the possible dangers of playing ice hockey at their business they could not be held responsible for the death. The Court used Knight v. Jewett, supra, 3 Cal.4th at pp. 315-316 as an example in their ruling. In that case the limitations of the owner to provide medical assistance in the case of a medical emergency were set out.

In the dissent presented by McAdams it is stated that there is a special relationship of the owner of land held open to the public to protect them against unreasonable risk of harm and to be able to provide first aid after an injury until aid can be given by others. This judge saw the owners negligent for supervising a sport known to have the high potential of injury and not have an emergency plan in place and would have reversed the decision.

This is an important case for recreation management because it protects owners who have placed an AED or other medical devices in their establishment from some liability issues. This case does raise the importance of having an emergency plan covering all contingencies as well as the training of the staff in the emergency plan as well as the location and use of all life-saving equipment.

The plaintiffs in this case were Jane Doe a student enrolled in the Duncanville Independent School District (DISD) and her father John Doe. Jane enrolled in the school in 1988 and qualified to play of the girl’s basketball team. She was then placed in a class specifically designed for the team that extended after school for practices; students received both academic credit as well as sports credit. At her first class she learned about the team’s custom of praying during practices, before and after sporting events in front of the spectators and on the bus traveling between the events. These prayers had been a tradition of the team for twenty years. While initially Jane was willing to participate in the prayers she eventually chose not to after a conversation with her father. Her non-participation was noted by her classmates and spectators who repeatedly questioned her religious orientation. In her history class she was singled out again by the teacher in a derogatory manner. Her father complained to the assistant superintendent of schools who was able to stop some religious practices but not all.

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DISD also participated in several other religious customs such as the choir theme song which was based on Christian religious texts, distributing pamphlets containing religious songs at awards ceremonies, allowed student initiated prayer before pep rallies and football games and allowing Gideon Bibles to be given to the fifth grade class.

On August 15, 1991 the Doe’s filed an application for a restraining order and a preliminary injunction against DISD in district court. The injunction specifically prohibited the employees from encouraging, promoting or participating in prayer with or among students during both curricular and extra-curricular activities. The district court found DISD guilty of violating the Establishment Clause and forced them to discontinue the practices that violated that clause.

DISD appealed the ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit insisting that the district court ruled incorrectly when it prohibited its employees from participating or supervising student-initiated prayer. It was argued that they could not prevent their employees from participating without violating their employee’s rights to the free exercise of religion, free speech and academic freedom.

The Court of Appeals broke the ruling of the distinct court into three separate issues, the Establishment Clause, the theme song of the choir, and the distribution of Bibles to students.

On the issue of the Establishment Clause, The Court of Appeals ruled that the district court ruling was correct because neither the Establishment Clause nor the districts court order prevent the DISD employees from treating the student’s religious beliefs with respect; rather they prohibited the teachers from participation in them. There were no restrictions requiring the teachers from leaving the room or making their non-participation obvious as was the case in Board of Education of Westside Community Schools v. Mergens, 496 U.S. 226, 251, 110 S. Ct. 2356, 2372-73, 110 L. Ed. 2d 191 (1990). In Mergens the Supreme Court upheld the Equal Access Act (EAA) requiring that a non-curricular student prayer group be given the same access to the facilities of the school as other groups. Under the EAA school employees were allowed to be present at those religious meetings for custodial purposes. However because the basketball program was part of the academic requirements for the school it did not qualify as an extra-curricular activity and is not protected by the EAA.

The second ruling focused on the singing of religious songs in the choir as well as the theme song. The singing of religious songs in the schools choir was recognized by all parties as being part of a secular program of music in accord with School District of Abington Township v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 225, 83 S. Ct. 1560, 1573, 10 L. Ed. 2d 844 (1963). As over 60% of choral music is based on either religious texts or themes a choir can not be presumed to endorse religion by singing religious songs. Forbidding religious music in a choir would eliminate the majority of the appropriate music. Therefore the Court of Appeals ruled that the district court was incorrect in prohibiting religious music.

The last item that was appealed was the distribution of Gideon Bibles. After reviewing the matter it was decided that since the Bibles were distributed by the Gideon’s without financial support from the school combined the lack of communication between the Gideon’s and the students as well as no announcement from the faculty informed the students about the Bibles that there was no standing for restriction and the district court was remanded to dismiss that portion of the original complaint.

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There were two dissents opinions by Edith Jones Circuit Judge who both concurred and dissented and Mahon a District Judge who dissented in part.

In Jones’s dissent with the qualifications and injunctions against active teacher participation and supervision of the voluntary student-initiated prayer she argues several points. She states that participation cannot be prevented by the court because it infringes upon the teachers right to freedom of religion and also argues that the term supervision cannot be defined more broadly then the schools encouragement of promoting the prayers.

Mahon’s argument was about the choice of religious theme songs for its choir is not consistent with the First Amendment. Because the song was song at the end of class each week, traveling to and from performances and the students were not given the opportunity to chose either to have a theme song or pick a new one it should be considered a teacher sponsored religious activity rather then a secular one.

While this case focuses on not promoting religion in schools it is important to understand that in any situation recreational or educational if religion is a part of the program it needs to be carefully monitored so that no laws are accidently broken and nobody is forced to participate in the event.

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