Law & Courts

High Court Declines to Hear Case on Pupil’s Use Of Religious Images

By Andrew Trotter — May 02, 2006 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The U.S. Supreme Court last week declined to review a case in which educators at a New York school restricted religious viewpoints that a student expressed in a class assignment having nothing to do with religion.

The court’s refusal to consider a ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit means that public schools in Connecticut, New York, and Vermont, the states covered by the New York City-based appeals court, may not censor a student’s viewpoint on curriculum subjects when it is a response to a school assignment or program, said Mathew D. Staver, the lawyer who represented the student in the case.

Antonio Peck's poster on the environment includes Jesus and a church, along with children depositing trash. His parents' lawsuit alleged that the school censored the religious images.

At issue is a poster that Antonio Peck, who in the spring of 2000 was a kindergartner at McNamara Elementary School in the 5,900-student Baldwinsville, N.Y., school district, made at home with the help of his mother, JoAnne Peck, for an assignment on recycling. His teacher had directed her students to create posters based on a two-month environmental unit; the posters were to be displayed at a school environmental program to which parents would be invited.

The first version of Antonio’s poster featured cutout pictures of Jesus, the Ten Commandments, and other religious images under the heading “The only way to save our world!”

A substitute poster, which Antonio and his mother made after the teacher asked him to revise it to address material learned in class, showed a recycling symbol and children cleaning up trash, but also depicted Jesus and a church.

For the environmental program, school personnel hung Antonio’s poster with those by other pupils but folded it back so the part showing Jesus could not be seen. The boy’s parents sued, claiming a violation of Antonio’s First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion and free speech, and other violations.

A Religious Perspective

A federal district judge in Syracuse dismissed the suit. But in October 2005, a three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit court unanimously found merit in the family’s free-speech claim.

“The district court overlooked evidence that, if construed in the light most favorable to the Pecks, suggested that Antonio’s poster was censored not because it was unresponsive to the assignment, and not because [the teacher and school principal] believe that JoAnne Peck rather than Antonio was responsible for the poster’s content, but because it offered a religious perspective on the topic of how to save the environment,” U.S. Circuit Judge Guido Calabresi wrote.

Distinguishing a student’s expression of a “religious viewpoint,” which may be constitutionally protected speech, from a student’s unprotected “religious proselytizing,” can be hard, the judge said.

But whether Antonio’s poster showed a “religious viewpoint,” and whether the school would have similarly censored a poster that depicted a purely secular image that was equally outside the scope of the lessons, were disputed factual questions that should be resolved in a trial, Judge Calabresi wrote.

In its petition to the Supreme Court, the Baldwinsville district argued that the appeals court’s decision “perilously tied the hands of public school educators within its jurisdiction.”

The Supreme Court on April 24 declined without comment to hear the district’s appeal in Baldwinsville School District v. Peck (Case No. 05-899). The case will now return to the district court for further proceedings.

A version of this article appeared in the May 03, 2006 edition of Education Week as High Court Declines to Hear Case On Pupil’s Use of Religious Images

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
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning
Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
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
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

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 Supreme Court Turns Down Case Challenging School District's Transgender Policies
The case involves a policy allowing information to be withheld from parents considered not supportive of a gender-transitioning child.
3 min read
This Oct. 4, 2018, photo shows the U.S. Supreme Court at sunset in Washington. The Supreme Court has declined to take up an appeal from parents in Oregon who want to prevent transgender students from using locker rooms and bathrooms of the gender with which they identify, rather than their sex assigned at birth.
This Oct. 4, 2018, photo shows the U.S. Supreme Court at sunset in Washington. The court has declined to take up an appeal from parents in Maryland challenging a school district's policy on gender-support plans for students.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
Law & Courts District Can Deny Opt-Outs on LGBTQ+ Books, Court Rules
Religious parents objected to a Maryland district's policy ending opt-outs for elementary school 'storybooks' with LGBTQ+ themes.
5 min read
A pedestrian passes by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Courthouse, June 16, 2021, on Main Street in Richmond, Va.
A person walks near the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit's courthouse in Richmond, Va. A panel of the court denied an injunction seeking to restore religious parents' opportunity to opt their children out of LGBTQ+ "storybooks" in a Maryland district.
Steve Helber/AP
Law & Courts Brown v. Board of Education: 70 Years of Progress and Challenges
The milestone for the historic 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down racial segregation in schools is marked by a range of tributes
12 min read
People mill around the third floor of the Kansas Statehouse in front of a Brown v. Board of Education mural before hearing from speakers recognizing the 70th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case on April 29, 2024 in Topeka, Kan.
People mill around the third floor of the Kansas Statehouse in front of a Brown v. Board of Education mural before hearing from speakers recognizing the 70th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case on April 29, 2024 in Topeka, Kan.
Evert Nelson/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP
Law & Courts Republican-Led States Sue to Block New Title IX Rule
A pair of lawsuits focus on the rule's protections for students' gender identity.
5 min read
Demonstrators advocating for transgender rights and healthcare stand outside of the Ohio Statehouse on Jan. 24, 2024, in Columbus. Four Republican-led states filed a lawsuit Monday challenging the Biden administration's new Title IX regulation, which among other things would codify protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Demonstrators advocating for transgender rights and healthcare stand outside of the Ohio Statehouse on Jan. 24, 2024, in Columbus. Four Republican-led states filed a lawsuit Monday challenging the Biden administration's new Title IX regulation, which among other things would codify protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Patrick Orsagos/AP