Arizona Christian University (ACU) released a statement earlier this month announcing that the school board for Phoenix-area Washington Elementary School District (WESD) had reinstated the university’s contract that allowed ACU’s student teachers to teach in the district. “The new student placement agreement allows for an additional five years, to be renewed annually, instead of being the final year of the previous 5-year agreement,” the statement revealed. The reinstatement of the contract comes after ACU filed a religious discrimination suit against WESD. As previously reported by Beliefnet, the university’s contract had been terminated in February after several board members stated their concerns that the university’s stance on issues like gay marriage could cause harm to other students. One board member in particular, Tamillia Valenzuela, who identifies as a “bilingual, disabled, neurodivergent queer black Latina,” stated that the school’s values were concerning for the LGBTQ+ community in the school. “At some point, we need to get real with ourselves and take a look at who we’re making legal contracts with and the message that is sending to our community. Because that makes me feel like I could not be safe in this school district,” she’d said. 

With the contract reinstated and the district agreeing to pay ACU’s legal fees, the university has withdrawn its religious discrimination suit. ACU President Len Munsil called the outcome a “complete vindication.” “This is a complete vindication of the rights of our students to be able to participate as student-teachers in a public school district without fear of religious discrimination. We obtained everything we wanted in this new agreement without any sacrifice or compromise of our beliefs and our university’s religious purpose. We look forward to a continued beneficial partnership that serves ACU student-teachers and the students, faculty, and staff of the WESD,” he said in a statement. Munsil went on to add, “We have used the tagline ‘Courageously Christian’ at ACU to remind us that it will require courage to stand for Christ and biblical truth in a culture that is increasingly hostile. I pray we are all encouraged by this outcome, even as we recognize that our duty is only to be faithful, regardless of the outcome, because ‘victory belongs to the Lord.’”

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which represented ACU, released a statement as well. “ADF attorneys representing ACU filed the federal lawsuit in March after the school district—the largest elementary school district in Arizona, serving Phoenix and Glendale—decided it no longer wanted to partner with ACU because of the university’s religious beliefs on marriage and sexuality, terminating the relationship without citing any complaint or issue regarding an ACU student or alumnus. The lawsuit explained that the district’s decision to end its relationship with the school because of its religious status and beliefs violated the university’s constitutionally protected freedoms,” the statement said. ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of U.S. Litigation David Cortman applauded the reinstatement of the contract, saying, “At a time when a critical shortage of qualified, caring teachers exists, the Washington Elementary School District board did the right thing by prioritizing the needs of elementary school children and agreeing to partner once again with ACU’s student-teachers.” ADF stated it will continue to monitor the school district to ensure there is no further discrimination in the future. 

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