Erika Winkler was a beautiful girl who loved Jesus but tragically took her own life at age 17.
Her mother, Julie Winkler, told CBN News her daughter was an outspoken Christian who stood up for her beliefs and paid a heavy price.
"There was a day of silence at school in honor of the LGBTQ community. Erika wouldn't participate, even though she has friends in that community, and received a lot of backlash," she said.
Julie said Erika's classmates made fun of her faith for years, and the taunting hurt her daughter tremendously, even contributing to her taking her own life last December.
After Julie and another student from the same Wisconsin high school committed suicide last year, school board member Pastor Alvin Dupree spoke at the Appleton North High School graduation.
He spoke about trusting Jesus during difficult times and made several other references to God. A number of local citizens complained Dupree's religious comments had no place in a public high school commencement address.
Pastor Dupree told CBN News that the Freedom From Religion Foundation is threatening to sue. FFRF is a national organization with the express purpose to "promote non-theism and defend the constitutional separation between religion and government."
In a Nov. 16, 2017 letter to Appleton School Superintendent Judy Baseman, the FFRC took issue with Dupree's graduation comments and remarks he made to a local political group entitled, "Placing God in the Classroom."
The letter stated, "We are aware that at least some of Dupree's religious comments were made in reference to the family of a recently deceased student. Students who have just lost a classmate are uniquely vulnerable to religious coercion, highlighting the importance of the school district remaining religiously neutral when discussing such a sensitive topic."
The letter requested the district provide written assurances that Dupree will not promote religion if he speaks at district events in the future, including graduation ceremonies.
Dupree said he has not been asked by the school district to stop speaking about Christ, but says if that request is made, he will nevertheless continue publicly sharing his faith.
Both Dupree and Winkler agree when it comes to bullying in public school, teachers and administrators, even students, are more tolerant about targeting outspoken Christians than they are other groups, because many school leaders don't believe Jesus belongs in the public schools anyway.
Like Erika, her family possesses a strong Christian faith and has been relying on that to get them through their grief. "I'll see my daughter again," Julie said, "and I can't wait."
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