U.S. Supreme Court Lets Stand Appeals Court Ruling Stripping Christian Teacher of Right of Expression in the Classroom

From The Rutherford Institute.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal brought by attorneys for The Rutherford Institute on behalf of a Virginia teacher who had news articles and a poster removed from his classroom by school officials because they considered the materials “too religious.” In asking the Supreme Court to reverse the appeals court ruling, Institute attorneys argued that Tabb High School engaged in viewpoint discrimination when it removed select materials posted by Spanish teacher William Lee in his classroom even though teachers are permitted to post matters of personal and public interest on their classroom walls. The petition filed with the Supreme Court charged that the lower court decision not only violated Lee’s First Amendment rights but set a dangerous precedent allowing school officials to censor any and all teacher expression.

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to hear this case is a major strike against free speech in the classroom and should be considered a setback for educators everywhere, Christian or otherwise,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “If teachers are so constrained that they have no latitude in the classroom, they’re going to have trouble teaching, and it will be the students who end up suffering.”

At the beginning of the 2004-2005 school year, Lee posted materials in his classroom, as was the practice among instructors. Tabb High School had a policy of allowing instructors to post upon the walls and bulletin boards of their assigned classrooms pictures and printed/illustrated materials consistent with the educational mission of the school, as well as general and personal materials in keeping with the school’s educational objectives. Lee’s posted materials included news articles about the 2004 presidential candidates and their religious beliefs, as well as a poster publicizing the National Day of Prayer and depicting George Washington praying at Valley Forge, an article from a newspaper pertaining to the religious faith of President Bush with a picture showing Bush praying, and a news article about former Attorney General John Ashcroft and his prayer meetings with staff members. Lee also displayed pictures and articles relating to the religious practices of pre-Inca and Incan civilizations and posters with emblems representing the pantheon of Mayan creature gods. Lee personally received no complaints from students, parents or staff about the materials posted on his classroom walls.

However, in October 2004, Lee became ill and was forced to be absent from his duties at Tabb High School. Upon returning to school several days later, Lee discovered that a number of materials relating to Christian religious expression had been removed from his classroom walls. In fact, one particular display, comprised of a montage of images, had its references to Christianity and the Christian cross removed, while images that were arbitrarily deemed to be less offensive were left uncensored. In filing suit against the school district, Institute attorneys had argued that school officials were guilty of viewpoint discrimination when deciding that certain postings in Lee’s classroom were “too religious” while allowing others to remain. Despite the school’s stipulation that the posted materials did not relate to the curriculum, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that Lee’s expression was part of the school’s curriculum and, thus, school officials had unfettered discretion to censor the materials.”

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