Colorado Springs School District 11 Board Director Al Loma is again facing backlash and community complaints for pushing religious rhetoric, after he quoted the Bible and used a church signature in a message from his official board email address.
The email — a response to D11 constituent and LGBTQ activist Joseph Shelton just after the Club Q mass shooting — is part of a pattern of Loma using his official board capacity to talk about the church where he serves as pastor, and to proselytize people who identify as LGBTQ and their allies.
It’s not the first time Loma has been in hot water. In February he faced student-led protests for his offensive comments and insulting behavior, after he said he wanted to “gangster slap” a constituent, and called a community group of Black men “barking chihuahuas” and “thuggish.”
He’s also faced past complaints for religious references in official emails and for publicizing his church from the dais. Despite the repeated behavior, it doesn’t seem the D11 board will be doing anything more than talking to Loma privately — again — about his religious references. Board President Dr. Parth Melpakam refused a phone interview with the Business Journal, and instead emailed a statement saying this is the way the board has handled Loma’s (and other board members’) interactions in the past.
In the Loma-Shelton email exchange that started Nov. 22, Shelton confronted Loma and Board Vice President Jason Jorgensen about their previous anti-LGBTQ comments, which Shelton believes has contributed to an overall unsafe environment for queer people in the Springs.
Loma and Jorgensen have both invoked their Christian faith in defense of those comments, and complaints about Loma were made earlier this year to the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a national organization that takes legal action on separation of church and state violations.
Shelton, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for Colorado State Board of Education last fall, felt compelled to contact Loma after the attack on Nov. 19 at Colorado Springs’ Club Q, where a gunman killed five people and injured 22 others in what prosecutors believe was a hate crime against LGBTQ people at the gay-friendly nightclub.
Shelton said: “When comments are made about the LGBTQ+ community and how queer-identifying teachers are changing our students, this tells the community that the shooting is okay. When you make comments about how LGBTQ+ inclusivity isn’t an important focus, that tells people that shooting LGBTQ+ community members is okay…”
Loma responded by denying any connection between his religious rhetoric and the shooting, claiming, “one’s right to cling to a genderism [sic] belief, does not override my right to call it a mental disorder.”
“The bible clearly delineates the perversion you defend,” Loma said in his official email.
Loma’s email concluded with a Bible verse that he had colored red, which said, “In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.” (The full email exchange can be read here.)
Loma also used his church title to sign off on the email, something Melpakam said the D11 board asked him not to do when the previous FFRF complaints came up. In March, FFRF sent the board a letter urging them to “immediately refrain from using their positions to promote and endorse religion as it is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”
This time, Loma told Melpakam he had “inadvertently shared” his church email signature in this case. He signed the email:
Rev. Al Loma, D11 Board
Senior Pastor, Victory Worship Church
Loma did not respond to requests for comment from the Business Journal — he actually still, more than a year since his election, does not have his district-provided cell phone number set up to receive any calls from members of the public.
The Business Journal called the cell phone number provided on the D11 website and confirmed it with staff. It still has a voice mailbox set up for Jim Mason, who was a D11 board member from 2013 to 2021. Shelton also brought up this issue with the district several months ago.
‘SLAP ON THE HAND’
It looks like the D11 board will deal with Loma’s behavior the same way it did the religion complaints about Loma in March — give him a private talking-to — although Melpakam said the board “has not collectively decided anything.”
“As far as the religious quotes are concerned, it was a private exchange between Director Loma and a constituent in response to the constituent initiating a religious conversation,” Melpakam said in an email. (In his initial email, Shelton wrote in part, “Specifically, Director Loma when you preach from the dais about how Jesus saw thing and how the bible is the strongest word in the land, tells people that committing heinous acts against LGBTQ+ people is okay, as long as they did it in the name of god.”)
In the statement he emailed after refusing an interview, Melpakam said in the past “[w]e have chosen to address 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 more forceful actions.”
But Shelton said Melpakam and other board members had promised in March to support further action if Loma’s behavior continued. (Melpakam did not directly answer questions about those promises, or other specific questions posed by the Business Journal about the issue.)
The board could move to formally reprimand Loma, which it considered after the March complaints. According to the board’s manual, this step is taken when a director “engages in blatant misconduct or in a pattern of misconduct and other members do not believe that more private counseling will be effective to stop such misconduct.”
One conduct expectation for board members, as stated in the manual, is that they “abstain from using offensive or questionable language or labeling that may offend Directors or the administration or the audience.”
The board, which has a conservative majority, would need a majority vote to move forward with a reprimand, and it’s a symbolic measure. It “merely express[es] the sentiment of a 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 is initiated,” Melpakam said of reprimands.
The rest of the board did not respond to the Business Journal’s requests for comment about their positions on heightened consequences for Loma. Director Julie Ott, who previously called for Loma’s reprimand, said in a Dec. 13 message that she didn’t have anything to add at this time. (We’ll update this story if that changes, or if others respond.)
Shelton said it’s past time for action, especially after the Club Q attack. The Indy, the Business Journal’s sister publication, has reported on LGBTQ activists’ calls for elected officials to condemn colleagues’ language that vilifies that community in the wake of the attack, and Shelton sees this as a responsibility of D11 board members, too.
“Plain and simple, Parth [Melpakam] is the president of this board, and for him to continue to go down the line of, ‘Well, I had a conversation with them, and everything’s good to go now after our conversation,’ and then it repeats again a few weeks later, obviously, something’s wrong there.
“The Board of Education does not have the authority to release someone of their position,” Shelton said, as Melpakam also noted in his email. At the end of the day, constituents must either successfully recall a board member or vote them out in the next election in order to get them removed mid-term.
“But it’s still a matter of holding accountability,” Shelton said. “When Parth continues to give a slap on the hand, … then they do it again, it’s obvious they’re not learning from their mistake.”
Board action against inflammatory rhetoric has escalated elsewhere. Recently in School District 49, Board of Education members reached their wit’s end with Director Ivy Liu and formally censured her for false claims about “indoctrination” in D49 schools. The president of that board, John Graham, helped push that effort forward after he and other directors decided they could no longer simply “correct” her behavior and move forward.
Shelton has filed a complaint about his November exchange with Loma to FFRF. Chris Line, a staff attorney from the organization, said it will again send a letter to the board about the behavior. But there’s not much more FFRF can do, he told the Business Journal.
“In this case, you clearly have a board member violating the law, but they typically will have immunity as a board member in an individual capacity,” and this does not allow for legal action against the board or district as a whole, Line said.
“Unfortunately, it almost has to get worse before it can get better,” he said. “We would need almost a school board itself to adopt what some of these crazier board members are doing. Once they took complete control, and then were doing official board action in regards to pushing their religion or anti-LGBT, then there’s a better opportunity to take legal action.”