SCORE ONE FOR THE “FREE EXERCISE THEREOF”
Posted by Andrew Roman on March 2, 2010
Three years ago, San Diego school teacher, Brad Johnson, was informed that two banners he had displayed on his classroom wall – one that hung for twenty-five years and another for seventeen years – had to come down.
Apparently, they were suddenly offending students.
For all those years, they simply hung there, as they always had , without incident, without complaint. There wasn’t even a hint that their American patriotic references to God were an affront to anyone.
Then, school administrators told him that he was violating the principles of Separation of Church and State. They told Mr. Johnson that his banners were “an impermissible attempt to make a Judeo-Christian statement to his students.”
They had to come down, they demanded.
His First Amendment rights had limitations, they argued.
The school’s principal had final say on what went up on the classroom walls, they said.
One banner, with its four phrases – In God We Trust, One Nation Under God, God Bless America and God Shed His Grace On Thee – had no business in a classroom. The other, quoting directly from the Declaration of Independence, might insult Muslims, Johnson was told.
Johnson decided he would sue.
A year later, in September, 2008, Judge Roger T. Benitez, said Johnson had the right to do so.
From Warner Todd Huston’s Pluribus Form blog, September, 2008:
In a blistering 23-page decision, U.S. District Judge Roger T. Benitez rejected the district’s motion as legally faulty and blasted its “brash” attempt to take down the banners. The jurist noted that the district allowed other teachers to put up posters with Buddhist and Islamic messages, posters of rock bands including Nirvana and the Clash, and Tibetan prayer rugs… Johnson’s banners, Benitez wrote, were patriotic expressions deeply rooted in American history.
Last Friday – seventeen months after Judge Benitez ruled that Johnson had the right to sue – he ruled that the Poway Unified School District of San Diego, CA, violated Johnson’s constitutional rights.
Score one for the Constitution and the good guys.
From the Thomas More Law Center, who represented Johnson:
That school officials banned Johnson’s patriotic displays while permitting other teachers to display personal posters and banners promoting partisan political issues such as gay rights and environmental causes, including global warming, played a crucial role in the Judge’s decision.
These displays included: a 35 to 40 foot string of Tibetan prayer flags with images of Buddha; a poster with the lyrics from John Lennon’s song “Imagine,” which starts off, Imagine there’s no Heaven; a poster with Hindu leader Mahatma Gandhi’s “7 Social Sins;” a poster of Muslim leader Malcolm X, and a poster of Buddhist leader Dali Lama.
Judge Benitez’s 32-page opinion was strongly worded and critical of the Poway school districts aversion to mentioning God: “[The school district officials] apparently fear their students are incapable of dealing with diverse viewpoints that include God’s place in American history and culture. . . . That God places prominently in our Nation’s history does not create an Establishment Clause violation requiring curettage and disinfectant for Johnson’s public high school classroom walls. It is a matter of historical fact that our institutions and government actors have in past and present times given place to a supreme God.”
If an educator is permitted to post an ex-Beatle’s vision of a Godless world, then certainly one should be permitted to allow historical slogans dating back two centuries that acknowledge this nation’s religious heritage. If Tibetan prayer flags are allowed to be put on display, then a quote referencing God taken from this nation’s founding document seems perfectly reasonable.
The “Free Exercise Thereof” portion of the First Amendment isn’t an anti-Christianity clause.
HUGE H/T to Eric at the great Vocal Minority blog.