ANN ARBOR, MI – In a closed-session meeting held on Monday night, the Poway Unified School District board in San Diego, California, voted to appeal the ruling of Federal District Court Judge Roger T. Benitez that held school officials violated math teacher Bradley Johnson’s constitutional rights when they ordered him to remove two patriotic banners from the walls of his classroom because they referred to “God.”
The banners included the phrases, “In God We Trust,” “One Nation Under God,” and “God Bless
America.” The school district claimed Johnson’s banners, which had hung in his classroom for two decades without complaint, advocated an impermissible Judeo-Christian view point and may be offensive to a Muslim student.
However, the school district left untouched displays that included a 35 to 40 foot string of Tibetan prayer flags with images of Buddha; a poster with the lyrics from John Lennon’s anti-religion song “Imagine,” which begins, 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.
The appeal will be filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Center, a national public interest law firm based in
Michigan, filed the federal lawsuit on Johnson’s behalf after the school district ordered him to take down his banners in January 2007. The
Center vows to defend Judge Benitez’s ruling before the Ninth Circuit and to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary. [Court ruling attached].
Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel for the Thomas More Law Center, commented, “It seems the Poway School District has a distaste for our nation’s Christian heritage represented by Mr. Johnson’s patriotic slogans. This is another example of public school boards attempting to eradicate the essential role played by Christianity in our nation’s history. This attempt to rewrite American history and propagandize our children must stop! We are in this fight for the long haul, and we intend to uphold our Constitution and the values it protects, including Mr. Johnson’s right to display his patriotic banners.”
The two banners at issue are approximately seven feet wide and two feet tall and contained phrases highlighting our Nation’s history and religious heritage. One banner with red, white, and blue stripes hung on the wall for twenty-five years and displayed famous patriotic phrases: “In God We Trust,” “One Nation Under God,” “God Bless
America,” and “God Shed His Grace on Thee.” The other banner, which was displayed for seventeen years, contained an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence: “All Men Are Created Equal, They Are Endowed By Their Creator.” [Photographs of banners attached]
In a public statement made shortly after the vote to appeal the ruling, School Board member Jeff Mangum stated, “[I]f this is allowed, what else can go up on the wall?” The board member’s question was answered by Judge Benitez, who noted in his ruling 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.
Robert Muise, the Thomas More Law Center Senior Trial Counsel handling the case, commented, “The school district’s public statements about this case are dishonest.
School officials have stated under oath that they have no objection to allowing teachers to promote personal political causes such as gay rights and global warming. And they have no objection to a 40-foot display of sacred, Tibetan prayer flags in a science classroom, among countless other religious and political displays. But they do have a personal objection to Mr. Johnson’s patriotic banners because they recognize a fundamental truth that school officials dislike: God plays a prominent role in our Nation’s history and heritage.”
Judge Benitez’s 32-page opinion was strongly worded and critical of the
Poway school districts aversion to 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.”
Thompson concluded, “To avoid the fact that our nation was founded on Christian principles is to rewrite history in favor of political correctness. What our public school system needs is more teachers like Brad Johnson.”
Center defends and promotes
America’s Christian heritage and moral values, including the religious freedom of Christians, time-honored family values, and the sanctity of human life. It supports a strong national defense and an independent and sovereign
United States of America. The
Center accomplishes its mission through litigation, education, and related activities. It does not charge for its services.
Center is supported by contributions from individuals, corporations and foundations, and is recognized by the IRS as a section 501(c)(3) organization. You may reach the
Center at (734) 827-2001 or visit our website at www.thomasmore.org.
March 9, 2010
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