A federal appeals court on Tuesday, September 13, rejected the claim of a San Diego-area mathematics teacher that his 1st Amendment rights were violated when the school’s principal ordered him to take down classroom banners that referred to God.
A panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the principal and school board had the same authority as any employer to set limits on the speech of employees.
Christian Banners 7 Feet Wide By 2 Feet High
From The Los Angeles Times:
Bradley Johnson, a mathematics teacher in the Poway Unified School District, had displayed banners in his classrooms for two decades that he saw as celebrating the religious heritage of America, including “In God We Trust,” “God Bless America,” and “God Shed His Grace on Thee.”
But after he transferred to a new school, a new principal in 2007 ordered the banners taken down.
The size of the banners — some 7 feet wide by 2 feet high — made them “a promotion of a particular viewpoint,” Principal Dawn Kastner is quoted as saying in the court’s 40-page opinion.
Johnson, who sponsors the Christian club at the school, Westview High School in Rancho Penasquitos, said he thought he was being singled out because the phrases involved Christianity. The banners came down, and Johnson filed a lawsuit.
With banners of that size, I imagine Johnson’s students had a hard time avoiding them. And what does God have to do with calculus? Not a whole lot.
As Government Employees, Teachers Are Not Entitled To Push A Religious Agenda
In any case, federal judge Roger Benitez last year sided with Johnson, and the math teacher restored the banners to their original places. But the school board appealed.
Tuesday’s unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based court reverses Benitez’s ruling. Instead, the panel held that the teacher had no constitutional right to “use his public position as a pulpit from which to preach his own views on the role of God in our Nation’s history to the captive students in his mathematics classroom.”
Americans United did a friend-of-the-court brief at the 9th Circuit siding with the public school district, pointing out when Johnson is in the classroom, he’s a government employee and he’s not entitled to push a religious agenda.
Supreme Court Has Ruled That Teachers May Not Proselytize
It is a tricky situation for teachers. The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that teachers and other school officials may not use their positions to support (or oppose) any particular religious viewpoint. As a public school teacher for over 15 years, I always try to stay objective and factual when the topics of religion and politics come up. It’s difficult sometimes, but very important.
And I would certainly never hang giant proselytizing banners in my classroom.
What do you think?
Photo Credit: crosstrippin'
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may
not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.