High school student alleging harassment for his Christian faith sues school

A 14-year-old Florida boy and his parents are suing his public charter school for outrageous discriminatory acts against him, saying he was harassed by peers and teachers alike for practicing his Christian faith in school.

Nicolas Ortiz, a 14-year-old freshman at Mater Academy, is a devout Christian who brings his Bible everywhere he goes, carrying it in his backpack and reading it in his free time at school. And it’s because of that devotion that Mater Academy’s faculty and students are alleged to have tormented him.

Numerous incidents of bullying or harassment are outlined in the legal complaint. In one from last September, while reading his Bible during free time Nicolas’ peers are said to have approached him, stole his Bible, tossed it back and forth, and ripped pages from it while ridiculing him for his faith.

The lawsuit claims Nicolas told school officials, who did nothing, and that repeated attempts to voice his distress were dismissed by the academy’s faculty. By not addressing the problem, the school encouraged the behavior, according to the complaint. 

Nicolas says even teachers participated in belittling him for his faith. “During a Fall 2021 classroom discussion, Nicolas’s science teacher, Mr. Ardieta, singled out Nicolas in front of his peers and questioned him for believing in God,” reads one example in the complaint. “Mr. Ardieta insinuated that Nicolas was ignorant for believing in the Bible. When Nicolas attempted to defend his beliefs, Mr. Ardieta cut him off and said, in front of the class and during classroom discussion, Nicolas should not believe in the Bible.”

Perhaps the most shocking allegation is that students, parents and staff spread false rumors that Nicolas would harm the school. The Department of Homeland Security even showed up. 

Nicolas, his parents and law enforcement provided concrete proof that disproved the allegations, according to the complaint. “(A)fter Homeland Security had visited the Ortiz home and concluded that the allegations against Nicholas were unfounded, Mr. Ortiz emailed the school to let the administration know that students had conspired to falsely accuse Nicholas of threatening a school shooting.”

In spite of this, Nicolas was suspended for “disrupting the learning environment.” Mater Academy allegedly provided no evidence to justify the suspension.

“Mr. Ortiz is experiencing something that no American should ever have to experience,” said Harmeet K. Dhillon, managing partner for the Dhillon Law Group, representing the family. “It’s bad enough that the school has done nothing to stop the bullying from his peers, but (has) gone as far as joining in on targeting Mr. Ortiz for simply practicing his faith.”