United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
J. HAZEL, United States District Judge
Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United
States Constitution prohibits the "sponsorship,
financial support, and active involvement of the sovereign in
religious activity." Lemon v. Knrtzman, 403
U.S. 602. 612 (1971) (citing Walz v. Tax Commission,
397 U.S. 664. 668 (1970)). This principle exists because
"religious beliefs and religious expression are too
precious to be either proscribed or prescribed by the
State." Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577. 589
(1992). Additionally, the First Amendment prevents the
government from prohibiting speech or compelling individuals
to express certain views. United States v. United Foods,
Inc., 533 U.S. 405. 410 (2001). But the First Amendment
does not afford the right to build impenetrable silos,
completely separating adherents of one religion from ever
learning of beliefs contrary to their own. Nor, in this
Court's view, does it prohibit a high school teacher from
leading a purely academic study of a religion that may differ
from the religious beliefs of some of his students.
action. Plaintiffs Caleigh Wood and John Kevin Wood allege
that Defendants Evelyn Arnold ("Principal Arnold")
and Shannon Morris ("Vice Principal Morris")
violated Ms. Wood's First Amendment rights by requiring
her to study Islam as part of a World History course, and
retaliated against Mr. Wood by banning him from school
grounds after he exercised his First Amendment rights by
complaining about the course. The following motions are
presently pending before the Court: Plaintiffs' Second
Motion to Alter or Amend the Complaint. ECF No. 47.
Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 54. and
Plaintiffs* Cross Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 55. A
hearing was held on November 6, 2017. Foe. R. 105.6 (D. Md.
2016). For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant
Defendants" Motion for Summary Judgment and deny
Wood attended Fa Plata High School during the 2014-2015
school year ("Relevant Period"), during which she
was an 11"' grade student. ECF No. 54-13 at
2.Principal Arnold was the school principal
at Fa Plata during the Relevant Period. ECF Nos. 54-13 at
2-3; 54-2 at 2-3, 10; 54-4 at 2. One of Principal
Arnold's primary responsibilities was to maintain the
safe and orderly operation of the school environment. ECF No.
54-4 at 2. During the Relevant Period. Sgt. Mark Kaylor was
employed by the Charles County Sheriff's Department and
was assigned to Fa Plata as a School Resource Officer. ECF
Nos. 54-8 at 2-3; 54-2 at 2-3.
History is a required course mandated by the Maryland State
Department of Education, is part of the social studies
curriculum, and is taught in the 11 grade at Fa Plata. ECF
No. 54-2 at 3. During the Relevant Period. Ms. Wood was
enrolled in a World History class taught by social studies
teacher Trevor Bryden and received a passing grade. ECF No.
54-2 at 11: ECF No. 54-13 at 6. 7. The topic "Muslim
World (including Islam)" was introduced in the World
History class as part of the course unit on Middle Eastern
empires. ECF Nos. 54-5 at 6; 54-2 at 14.
the class. Ms. Wood was taught, inter alia, that
"Most Muslim's [sic] faith is stronger than
the average Christian [sic]" (emphasis in original) and
thai "Islam, at heart, is a peaceful religion." FCF
Nos. 55-2 at 3; 55-4 at 3. Additionally, one of Ms.
Wood's assignments was to complete a worksheet where she
had to provide missing words within the statements that
comprise the "Five Pillars of Islam." ECF No. 56-3.
This included a sentence stating that "There is no god
but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah." which
is also known as the Shahada, Id. When Ms. Wood
refused to complete assignments, she received no credit for
those assignments: but the parties dispute the impact, if
any. that any uncompleted assignments had on her final grade.
ECF No. 55-2 at 3: 56-1. Principal Arnold had the authority
to grant Ms. Wood an opt-out or alternate assignments. ECF
No. 55-7 at 2-3. Jack Tuttle. the curriculum specialist for
the Defendants, agreed that it is not appropriate for a
public school teacher to tell his class that "Most
Muslim's [sic] faith is stronger than the average
Christian [sic]." ECF No. 55-9 at 1-2.
Principal Arnold nor Vice Principal Morris ever spoke with
Ms. Wood about their religious beliefs during the Relevant
Period or at any other time, nor did they suggest Ms. Wood
practice the Islamic faith. ECF No. 54-13 at 8-9.
Additionally, neither Principal Arnold nor Vice Principal
Morris ever directed Ms. Wood to recite the five pillars of
the Islamic faith, pledge allegiance to Allah, profess the
Skahada or direct Ms. Wood to profess or write out
faith statements concerning Islam. ECF Nos. 54-2 at 5-6; 54-3
Wednesday. October 22. 2014. Mr. Wood telephoned La Plata and
left a voicemail in which he expressed his concern about the
homework assignment that Ms. Wood had been given in Mr.
Bryden's World History class. ECF No. 54-12 at 2. 3. On
Thursday, October 23. 2014. Ms. Shanif Pearl, the
administrative assistant, returned Mr. Wood's phone call
in an attempt to resolve Mr. Wood's concerns. ECF Nos.
54-10 at 5-6: 54-2 at 4. 1 7. On the same day. Vice Principal
Morris also telephoned Mr. Wood. At some point during that
conversation. Mr. Wood stated that he was "going to
create a shit storm like you have never
seen."' ECF No. 54-9 at 3-4. Additionally. Mr.
Wood stated that "you can take that fucking Islam and
shove it up your white fucking ass!" ECF Nos. 54-9 at 4;
54-2 at 16. According to Principal Arnold. Vice Principal
Moms was visibly shaken when later describing the
conversation with Mr. Wood. ECF No. 54-2 at 3-4.
the time she became aware of the conversation with Vice
Principal Morris. Principal Arnold became aware of online
posts by Mr. Wood on Facebook® that caused her to be
increasingly concerned about the safe and orderly operation
of La Plata. ECF Nos. 54-2 at 19: 54-4 at 3. In one post. Mr.
Wood, while talking about his daughter studying Islam,
states: "I just about fucking lost it. . . My white ass
is going into school on Monday and letting my feelings be
known. Caleigh said her teacher was a Navy Seal. Can you
guess what I said to that! I'm fucking
livid!!!!!!!." ECF No. 54-2 at 19. In response to a
comment from a friend cautioning him not to get arrested. Mr.
Wood responded that he would "try." Id. In
response to a suggestion that he study Islam because he could
not defeat what he could not understand. Mr. Wood stated that
a "556 doesn't study Islam and it kills them fuckers
every day." Id. In a subsequent post. Mr.
Wood states that he would use his daughter's study sheet
as "confetti on Monday!" ECF No. 54-2 at 22. These
interactions took place during the school's Homecoming
week. ECF No. 54-2 at 4.
Arnold sought the assistance of Central Office administrators
regarding Mr. Wood's demeanor, his interactions with Vice
Principal Morris, and Principal Arnold's growing concern
for the safe and orderly operation of La Plata. ECF No. 54-2
at 4. In her email to Central Office. Principal Arnold states
"At this point 1 am happy to call Mr. Wood myself but he
doesn't appear to want to listen and instead wants to
curse and scream. His demeanor on the phone was so extreme
that I do have concerns about him coming up to the school.
Since he works at Ft. Belvoir and states that he is a Marine,
I am assuming that he has access to weapons." ECF No.
54-2 at 18. Principal Arnold also discussed her concerns with
Sgt. Kaylor. who prepared a No Trespass Order for Principal
Arnold's signature after reviewing the Facebook®
posts. ECF No. 54-8 at 4-5. 8-9. Sgt. Kaylor informed Mr.
Wood that a No Trespass Order was being issued against him.
ECF Nos. 54-8 at 5: 54-4 at 8. Mr. Wood never contacted
Principal Arnold to meet about rescinding the No Trespass
Order. ECF No. 54-2 at 5.
filed the instant Complaint on January 27. 2016. seeking
declaratory and injunctive relief, damages, and
attorneys" fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on
claims under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, Title IX of
the Education Amendments of 1972. Title VI of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964. and Article 36 of the Declaration of
Rights of the Maryland Constitution. ECF No. 1. On September
30, 2016, the Court denied Plaintiffs" Motion for a
Preliminary Injunction and granted, in part. Defendants'
Motion to Dismiss. ECF No. 36. The Court dismissed all claims
against the Board of education of Charles County, as well as
Principal Arnold and Vice Principal Morris in their official
capacities. In addition, the Court dismissed Plaintiffs'
retaliation claim asserted on behalf of Ms. Wood.
Plaintiffs' procedural due process claim asserted on
behalf of Mr. Wood, and Plaintiffs' title IX and Title VI
claims. Following this Order. Plaintiffs' filed an
Amended Complaint, ECF No. 39, removing Charles County as a
named defendant, and substituting Ms. Wood as a named
plaintiff, in place of her mother Melissa Wood, as Ms. Wood
is no longer a minor child. Plaintiffs also removed their
claims under Title IX and Title VI. As a result of the
Court's Order and Amended Complaint, the following claims
remain: First Amendment Establishment Clause violation on
behalf of Ms. Wood (Claim 1); First Amended Freedom of Speech
violation on behalf of Ms. Wood (Claim II): First Amendment
Retaliation on behalf of Mr. Wood (Claim III): and Violation
of Article 36 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights on behalf
of Ms. Wood (Claim V).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
may move for summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).
"The court shall grant summary judgment if there is no
genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(a). The movant has the "initial responsibility of
informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and
identifying those portions of the pleadings .. . together
with the affidavits, if any. which it believes demonstrate
the absence of a genuine issue of material fact."
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 466 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)
(internal citation omitted). In considering the motion,
"the judge's function is not... to weigh the
evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but to
determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial."
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).
To withstand a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving
party must do more than present a mere scintilla of evidence.
Phillips v. CSX Transport, Inc., 190 F.3d 285. 287
(4th Cir. 1999). Rather, "the adverse party must set
forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue
for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. Although
the Court should draw all justifiable inferences in the
nonmoving party's favor, the nonmoving party cannot
create a genuine issue of material fact "through mere
speculation or the building of one inference upon
another." Beak v. Hardy, 769 F.2d 213, 214 (4th
for summary judgment require that the Court consider
"each motion separately on its own merits to determine
whether either of the parties deserves judgment as a matter
of law." Rossignol v. Voorhaar, 316 F.3d 516,
523 (4lh Cir. 2003). "The Court must deny both motions
if it finds there is a genuine issue of material fact, but if
there is no genuine issue and one or the other party is
entitled to prevail as a matter of law. the court will render
judgment." Wallace v. Poulos, No. DKC
2008-0251, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 89700. at *13 (D. Md. Sept.
29. 2009) (internal citation omitted).
assert constitutional violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983. Section 1983 provides that:
Every person who. under color of any statute, ordinance,
regulation. custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or
the District of Columbia. subjects, or causes to be
subjected, any citizen of the United Slates or other person
within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any
rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution
and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action
at law. suit in equity, or other proper proceeding . . .
42 U.S.C. § 1983. Here, Plaintiffs' remaining claims
assert that their rights under the First Amendment were
violated. Specifically. Plaintiffs claim that
Ms. Wood's rights under the Establishment Clause were
violated through the teaching of Islam in her public school.
Ms. Wood's right to Free Speech was violated when she was
required to "confess" the Shahada and that
Mr. Wood was subjected to First Amendment Retaliation when he
was banned from school grounds after he expressed his
opposition to the school's teaching. Each claim will be
addressed in turn.
Ms. Wood's First Amendment Establishment Clause
claim that Defendants violated the Establishment Clause
focuses primarily on a statement made by a teacher during Ms.
Wood's World History class that "Most Muslims [sic]
faith is stronger than the average Christian [sic]"'
(the "comparative faith statement"). ECF No. 55-1
at 10. And, indeed, as the Court has
mentioned during the motion hearings in this matter, it is
this statement that presents the most significant difficulty
for the Defendants' case. The Establishment Clause
provides that "Congress shall make no law respecting an
establishment of religion." U.S. Const, amend. I.
Generally, the constitutionality of government action under
the Establishment Clause is determined by applying the three
prong test outlined in Lemon. Pursuant to
Lemon, for the action to be constitutional. (I) the
government activity must have a secular purpose. (2) the
primary effect of the ...