Colorado Springs School District 11 board director Al Loma again faces backlash and community complaints for pushing religious rhetoric after he quoted the Bible and used a church signature on a leadership message official email address of the board.
The email, a response to D11 member and LGBTQ activist Joseph Shelton just after the mass shooting at Club Q, is part of a pattern in which Loma uses his official capacity on the board to speak about the church where he serves as pastor. and to proselytize with the people who identify themselves. as LGBTQ and their allies.
It’s not the first time Loma has been in hot water. In February he faced student-led protests over his offensive comments and insulting behaviour, after he said wanted to “gangster slap” a constituent and called a community group of black men “barking Chihuahuas” and “thugs.”
He also faced previous complaints for religious references in official emails and for advertising his church from the dais. Despite the repeated behavior, it doesn’t seem like the D11 board is going to do anything more than talk to Loma privately, again, about his religious references. The chairman of the board, Dr. Parth Melpakam, declined a telephone interview with the business journaland instead emailed a statement saying this is how the board has handled Loma’s (and other board members’) interactions. in the past.
In the email exchange between Loma and Shelton that began on November 22, Shelton confronted Loma and board vice chairman Jason Jorgensen about his previous anti-LGBTQ commentswhich Shelton believes has contributed to an overall unsafe environment for queer people in Springs.
Loma and Jorgensen have invoked their Christian faith in defense of those comments, and The complaints about Loma were made earlier this year to the Freedom From Religion Foundation. (FFRF), a national organization that takes legal action for violations of the separation of church and state.
Shelton, who campaigned unsuccessfully for the Colorado State Board of Education last fall, felt compelled to contact Loma after the November 19 attack at the Q Club in Colorado Springs, where a gunman killed five people and injured 22 others in what prosecutors thinks it was a hate crime against LGBTQ people at the gay-friendly disco.
Shelton said: “When you make comments about the LGBTQ+ community and how gay-identifying teachers are changing our students, it tells the community that shooting is okay. When you make comments about how LGBTQ+ inclusion is not a major focus, that tells people that photographing members of the LGBTQ+ community is okay…”
Loma responded by denying any connection between his religious rhetoric and the shooting, stating that “one has the right to hold onto a genderism.” [sic] belief, does not nullify my right to call it a mental disorder.”
“The Bible clearly outlines the perversion you stand for,” Loma said in his official email.
Loma’s email concluded with a Bible verse that he had colored red, which read: “In the same way also men abandoned natural relationships with women and burned with lust for one another. The men committed indecent acts with other men, and received the due penalty on themselves for their perversion. (The full email exchange can be read here.)
Loma also used her church title to sign the email, something Melpakam said the D11 board asked her not to do when earlier FFRF complaints surfaced. In March, the FFRF sent the board a letter urging it to “immediately refrain from using her positions to promote and endorse religion, as it is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”
This time, Loma told Melpakam that he had “inadvertently shared” his church’s email signature in this case. He signed the email:
Rev. Al Loma, Board D11
Senior Pastor, Victory Adoration Church
Loma did not respond to requests for comment from business journal — he still, more than a year after his election, does not have his district-provided cell phone number set up to receive calls from members of the public.
the business journal he called the cell phone number provided on the D11 website and confirmed it with the staff. He still has a voicemail set up for Jim Mason, who was a D11 board member from 2013 to 2021. Shelton also raised this issue with the district several months ago.
‘HIT ON THE HAND’
It appears the D11 board will deal with Loma’s behavior in the same way it did the religious complaints about Loma in March (talk to him privately), though Melpakam said the board “hasn’t decided anything collectively.”
“In regards to religious quotes, it was a private exchange between Director Loma and a constituent in response to the constituent starting a religious conversation,” Melpakam said in an email. (In his initial email, Shelton wrote in part: “Specifically, when Principal Loma preaches from the dais about how Jesus saw things and how the Bible is the strongest word on earth, she tells people that committing acts egregious attacks against LGBTQ+ people is fine, as long as they did it in the name of god.”)
In the statement he sent via email after declining an interview, Melpakam said in the past “[w]We have chosen to approach this with private counseling and restorative conversations, as we do in similar instances in our schools. …
“Some in our community may not be satisfied with that response and want stronger action.”
But Shelton said Melpakam and other board members vowed in March to support further action if Loma’s behavior continued. (Melpakam did not directly respond to questions about those pledges or other specific questions raised by the business journal about the topic.)
The board could go on to formally reprimand Loma, which it considered after the complaints in March. According to the board manual, this step is taken when a director “engages in flagrant misconduct or a pattern of misconduct and other members do not believe that more private counseling is effective in stopping such misconduct.”
A conduct expectation for board members, as stated in the manual, is that they “refrain from using offensive or questionable language or labels that may offend directors or management or the audience.”
The board, which has a conservative majority, would need a majority vote to move forward with a reprimand, and it is a symbolic move. “It simply expresses[es] the sentiment of the majority of the Board regarding the conduct of the Board member,” according to the manual.
“The collective will of the Board determines when and if that process starts,” Melpakam said of the reprimands.
The rest of the board did not respond to the business journalRequests for comment on their positions on the greatest consequences for Loma. Principal Julie Ott, who previously called for Loma’s reprimand, said in a Dec. 13 message that she had nothing to add at this time. (We’ll update this story if that changes, or if others respond.)
Shelton said it was time to act, especially after the attack on Club Q. Indianthe business journalsister publication of , has reported on LGBTQ activists call on elected officials to condemn the language of colleagues that vilifies that community in the wake of the attack, and Shelton also sees this as a responsibility of the D11 board members.
“Plain and simple, Parth [Melpakam] is the chairman of this board, and for him to continue the line of, ‘Well, I had a conversation with them, and it’s all good to go now after our conversation,’ and then he repeats himself a few weeks later, obviously something it’s wrong there.
“The Board of Education does not have the authority to release someone from office,” Shelton said, as Melpakam also noted in his email. At the end of the day, the voters must successfully remove a board member or remove him in the next election for him to be removed at mid-term.
“But it’s still a liability issue,” Shelton said. “When Parth continues to clap hands…then do it again, it’s obvious they’re not learning from their mistake.”
The junta’s action against inflammatory rhetoric has intensified elsewhere. Recently in School District 49, members of the Board of Education They came to their wit’s end with director Ivy Liu and formally censured her for false claims about “indoctrination” in D49 schools. The chairman of that board, John Graham, helped jumpstart that effort after he and other directors decided they could no longer just “fix” their behavior and move on.
Shelton has filed a complaint about his November trade with Loma to FFRF. Chris Line, a staff attorney for the organization, said he will resubmit a letter to the board about the behavior. But there’s not much else FFRF can do, he told the Business Journal.
“In this case, there is clearly a board member violating the law, but they will generally have immunity as an individual board member,” and this does not allow for legal action against the board or the district as a whole, Line said. .
“Unfortunately, it almost has to get worse before it can get better,” he said. “It would take almost a school board to embrace what some of these crazier board members are doing. Once they took full control and then took official junta action regarding promoting their religion or anti-LGBT, then there is a better opportunity to take legal action.”