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Back to October Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 273 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS OCTOBER 2008

Judge Criticizes Ban on Banners
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For 25 years, math teacher Brad Johnson displayed four banners mentioning God in his San Diego, California classroom. The banners declared, "In God We Trust," "One Nation Under God," "God Bless America," "God Shed His Grace on Thee," and "All Men Are Created Equal, They are Endowed by their Creator." In 2007, however, officials with the Poway Unified School District ordered Johnson to remove the banners, saying they promoted a Judeo-Christian viewpoint.

On Johnson's behalf, the Thomas More Law Center filed a lawsuit against the district, which in turn filed a motion to have the case dismissed. The district claimed that the banners were outside of Johnson's limited First Amendment rights as a public employee. In September, a federal judge dismissed the district's motion and opined that the banners are constitutionally protected free speech.

According to federal district judge Robert T. Benitez, "Whether described as speech from a religious perspective or speech about American history and culture, through display of his classroom banners, Johnson was simply exercising his free speech rights on subjects that were otherwise permitted in the limited public forum created by Defendants and in a manner that did not cause substantial disorder in the classroom. Thus, Johnson has made out a clear claim for relief for an ongoing violation of his First Amendment free speech rights."

In arguing the case for Johnson's right to display the banners, the Thomas More Law Center pointed out that other teachers in the same district displayed Tibetan prayer flags, posters with Buddhist and Islamic messages, and other religious items and messages. Robert Muise, the lawyer representing Johnson's case, said Benitez's opinion "sends a clear message to school districts across the country that hostility toward our nation's religious heritage is contrary to our constitution." (L.A. Times, 9-11-08)


 
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