Knox County has reached a settlement with an anti-Sharia law group that filed a civil rights lawsuit against the school system earlier this year after officials reneged on a promise to let the organization hold an after-school event at Farragut high School.
School officials initially said Act! for America could hold a forum at the school on April 24 to talk about Sharia law and its potential threat to American culture. But, in the wake of media publicity just weeks prior to the event, Superintendent Jim McIntyre, rescinded the offer, saying it would cause a "disruption" at the school.
John Peach, director for the organization's Knoxville chapter, and Bill French, one of the scheduled guest speakers, then filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in August, suing the school board, McIntyre and Michael Reynolds, the principal of Farragut High School.
The sides officially reached an agreement Wednesday night. Under the terms, the county will pay out roughly $17,500 in attorney fees, administrative costs and monetary damages tied to advertising for the event.
In addition, the school board on Wednesday – under the terms of the settlement – amended its policy regarding the community's use of school facilities.
Knox County Law Director Richard "Bud" Armstrong said Act! for America argued that the school system discriminated against it, since other religious-based groups in the past were able to hold events at school facilities.
He denied the allegations.
"As part of the settlement we said that we did nothing wrong," Armstrong said. "We were following our policy but our policy was flawed. It wasn't discrimination."
He said the new policy specifically states that the use of the facilities is not based on the content of the message or viewpoint of the applicant. The new policy also strikes language that gives the superintendent discretion to determine who can and can't use a facility.
Added McIntyre: "We are gratified to reach a settlement in this matter that is beneficial to both parties."
Act! for America can also re-apply to use the school facility and more than likely be given permission, officials said.
The group describes itself as the nation's largest non-profit, non-partisan grassroots organization "devoted to promoting national security and defeating terrorism," according to its website.