Law & Courts

‘God’ in Classroom Gets Legal Scrutiny

By Mark Walsh — September 30, 2008 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A federal district judge has issued a ruling suggesting that a California teacher has a right to display banners in his public school classroom with such slogans as “In God We Trust,” “One Nation Under God,” and “God Bless America.”

Judge Roger T. Benitez of the U.S. District Court in San Diego rejected a motion by the Poway Unified School District and other defendants to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the teacher, Bradley Johnson.

Mr. Johnson, whose suit says he has hung some of the banners for as long as 25 years in his classroom at Westview High School, was told by his principal in 2007 to remove the banners because they conveyed “a Judeo-Christian viewpoint,” according to court papers. The teacher sued on First Amendment free-speech grounds.

Judge Benitez said in the Sept. 4 opinion that based on the teacher’s alleged facts, which the judge must accept as true at this stage in the legal process, the 33,000-student Poway district had created a limited open forum at the school in which teachers have free-speech rights. The school district has permitted other teachers to display posters with Buddhist and Islamic messages, and “Tibetan prayer flags,” the suit contends.

The judge said he did not view Mr. Johnson’s banners as communicating a religious message.

“Rather, the banners communicate fundamental political messages and celebrate important American shared historical experiences,” he said.

The court rejected the district’s arguments that the banners could be regulated because the teacher is a government employee and any classroom speech was part of his job duties.

Jack M. Sleeth Jr., a lawyer for the Poway district, said it would next seek to prove that many of Mr. Johnson’s alleged facts are incorrect.

“I think it was clear he was advancing a belief in a deity,” Mr. Sleeth said of the teacher and his banners. “If Mr. Johnson’s right, every teacher has rights” to display his beliefs in the classroom, the lawyer added. “I don’t think that is the appropriate place to go.”

A version of this article appeared in the October 01, 2008 edition of Education Week

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Assessment Webinar
The State of Assessment in K-12 Education
What is the impact of assessment on K-12 education? What does that mean for administrators, teachers and most importantly—students?
Content provided by Instructure
Jobs January 2022 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Proven Strategies to Improve Reading Scores
In this webinar, education and reading expert Stacy Hurst will provide a look at some of the biggest issues facing curriculum coordinators, administrators, and teachers working in reading education today. You will: Learn how schools
Content provided by Reading Horizons

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts Justice Stephen G. Breyer, Who Sympathized With School Administrators, Set to Retire
The U.S. Supreme Court justice has championed racial and gender equality, while occasionally siding with school officials over students.
14 min read
Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer testifies before a House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services hearing to review the FY 2016 budget request of the Supreme Court of the United States, on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 23, 2015. Breyer is retiring, giving President Joe Biden an opening he has pledged to fill by naming the first Black woman to the high court, two sources told The Associated Press Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer is reportedly retiring, giving President Joe Biden an opening he has pledged to fill by naming the first Black woman to the high court.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
Law & Courts Arizona Sues Biden to Keep School Anti-Mask Rules
At issue are two state programs the Republican governor created last summer that use federal COVID-19 relief money.
4 min read
FILE — Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey gives his state of the state address at the Arizona Capitol, Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, in Phoenix. Ducey sued the Biden administration, Friday, Jan. 21, 2022, over its demand that the state stop sending millions in federal COVID-19 relief money to schools that don't have mask requirements or that close due to COVID-19 outbreaks. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
Law & Courts U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Major Cases on Affirmative Action in Education
The outcome could affect K-12 policies when the justices rule on race-based policies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina.
3 min read
A man talks on his phone on the steps of Harvard University's Widener Library, in Cambridge, Mass. on June 26, 2020.
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take up major cases on affirmative action in admissions at Harvard University, above, and at the University of North Carolina.
Elise Amendola/AP
Law & Courts Supreme Court to Hear Case of Coach Who Prayed After Games in Defiance of School District
The U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether school districts may prohibit private religious expression by public school employees.
4 min read
Former Bremerton High School assistant football coach Joe Kennedy is in a conflict with the Bremerton, 
Wash., school district over his silent prayer after games.
Former Bremerton High School assistant football coach Joseph A. Kennedy stands at on the 50-yard line at Bremerton Memorial Stadium. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal over his dismissal for praying after football games.
Larry Steagall/Kitsap Sun via AP