By Victor Ochieng
Mackenzie Fraiser is a 12-year-old Christian girl and a 6th grader at Somerset Academy, a charter school in North Las Vegas, Nevada. In February, her technology teacher instructed her to create a PowerPoint demonstration about her life, titled “All about Me.” Among other requirements, she was to include a slide, with an inspirational message. So she thought of using a Bible verse, John 3:16, which reads, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”
However, the teacher had an issue with Mackenzie’s inspirational message. She made it clear to the class that none of the students would be permitted to use any Bible verses or quotations from the Book of Mormon.
The teacher’s message was clear: you cannot be inspired by religion.
The preteen obeyed the teacher’s instruction and chose an ordinary, secular maxim. Mackenzie is a pastor’s daughter, and she said she felt very disappointed and concerned.
“When I was told I couldn’t use a Bible verse, I was afraid I was doing something wrong,” Mackenzie said.
A couple of months later, she got another class assignment that required her to address the topic of self-esteem. After discussing the assignment with her parents, Tim and Kate Fraiser, they suggested that she recognize that her self-confidence derives from being created in God’s image.
Unfortunately, her teacher didn’t permit her to mention God in her assignment. Once again, her teacher banned any reference to faith in the technology classroom.
Mackenzie’s dad, who pastors at Grace Point Church in Las Vegas, thought that his daughter must have been mistaken. Could she have misunderstood the teacher’s directions? This is when he sent an email to the school, seeking clarification.
The response that came was shocking. The school confirmed it, saying that the teacher was simply following “school law expectations.”
The Fraisers contacted Liberty Institute, a religious liberty law firm that specializes in these kind of legal disputes. One of its attorneys, Jeremy Dys, represented the family.
After Mackenzie’s parents threatened to take legal action, Somerset Academy backed down this week and is allowing the girl to resubmit the project.
In addition, the school issued an official, written apology to Mackenzie. “After reviewing the facts of this particular situation, Somerset Academy recognizes that the teacher and assistant principal incorrectly implemented [Department of Education] guidelines,” the apology read. “Somerset Academy of Las Vegas and its Administrators apologize for this inadvertent error. The student will be allowed to resubmit her original presentation, inclusive of her religious beliefs.”
This verdict is indeed a victory for religious liberty.