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Wood v. Arnold

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

March 26, 2018

CALEIGH WOOD, et al., Plaintiffs, [1]
EVELYN ARNOLD, et al., Defendants.


          GEORGE J. HAZEL, United States District Judge

         The 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.

         In this 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 Plaintiffs" motions.


         A. Factual Background[2]

         Caleigh 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.[3]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.

         World 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.

         During the class. Ms. Wood was taught, inter alia, that "Most Muslim's [sic] faith is stronger than the average Christian [sic]"[4] (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.

         Neither 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 at 2.

         On 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."'[5] 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.

         Around 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."[6] 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.

         Principal 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.

         B. Procedural Background

         Plaintiffs 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).


         A party 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 Cir. 1985).

         Cross-motions 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).


         Plaintiffs" 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.[7] 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.

         A. Ms. Wood's First Amendment Establishment Clause Claim

         Plaintiffs' 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.[8] 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 ...

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