Students File Federal Lawsuit After College Threatens Expulsion for Prayer

Alameda, CA – Two students at publicly-funded College of Alameda filed a federal lawsuit Monday after school officials threatened to expel them for praying.

Last December, student Kandy Kyriacou visited an instructor to give her a Christmas gift. Kandy found the instructor alone in her shared office. When the instructor indicated she was ill, Kandy offered to pray for her. The instructor bowed her head, and Kandy began to pray – until she was interrupted by another faculty member, Derek Piazza who walked in and said, “You can’t be doing that in here!” Kandy quickly left and rejoined her friend and fellow student Ojoma Omaga. Piazza followed Kandy outside and repeated his rebuke.

The students were surprised by Piazza’s intimidating behavior, but they were stunned when, three days before Christmas, both received letters notifying them of the College’s retroactive “intent to suspend” them. In violation of the school’s own policies, the letters stated no factual bases for the charges, vaguely alleging that the students had engaged in “disruptive or insulting behavior, willful disobedience . . . persistent abuse of, college employees.” Then, in guilty-until-proven-innocent administrative hearings, it became clear that the College considered Kandy’s get-well prayer – which her instructor seemed to welcome – worthy of discipline. The College even threatened suspension or expulsion for further infractions – apparently other public prayers.

The students turned to Pacific Justice Institute. PJI staff attorneys, baffled by the school’s stance, attempted to resolve the situation through demand letters. The College did not respond. PJI local affiliate attorneys Steven N. H. Wood and Christopher Schweickert, of the Walnut Creek firm Bergquist, Wood & Anderson, LLP, made a final demand that College officials rescind the disciplinary letters and acknowledge the students’ right to pray. The College refused. On Monday, Wood, Schweickert, and PJI staff attorneys filed a federal lawsuit to remove the cloud of intimidation hanging over the students.

“It’s outrageous,” PJI President Brad Dacus stated. “Since when does praying for a sick teacher to get well – with her consent – earn a suspension? This is not just a constitutional violation; it is a complete lack of common sense. These students were not looking for a fight, but since the school to this day insists that it can expel them if they pray again, we will have to resolve it in federal court.”