Published Online: September 20, 2011
Published in Print: September 21, 2011, as Court: Teacher Has No Right to 'God' Banners in Class

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Court: Teacher Has No Right to 'God' Banners in Class

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A public school teacher has no constitutional right to display banners in his classroom with slogans such as “In God We Trust” and “One Nation Under God,” a federal appeals court has ruled.

Bradley R. Johnson, a calculus teacher in the Poway Unified School District in California, was ordered by administrators in 2006 to remove the banners from his classroom. He contended the phrases were simply patriotic sentiments found in documents such as the Declaration of Independence, and he sued under the First and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and under the California Constitution.

A federal district judge ruled for Mr. Johnson in 2008, saying that the school district had created a limited public forum for teachers to express their views and that Johnson’s banners “communicate fundamental political messages.”

However, the appeals court panel said in its Sept. 13 ruling that the district court failed to analyze the banners as speech by a government employee. The panel said Mr. Johnson could generally express his own views in other public places. "He may not do so, however, when he is speaking as the government, unless the government allows him to be its voice," wrote Judge Richard C. Tallman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco.

Vol. 31, Issue 04, Page 4

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