“The Prayer at Valley Forge” painting by Arnold Friberg
A federal judge has ruled against a public school teacher who filed a lawsuit after administrators removed Christian-themed postings from his classroom, including a depiction of George Washington praying at Valley Forge and news clippings about the faith of President Bush and former Attorney General John Ashcroft.
William Lee – a Spanish teacher at Tabb High School in York County, Va. – was represented by the Christian public-interest group Rutherford Institute in U.S. District court, arguing his free-speech rights were violated.
The postings, removed at the beginning of the 2004-05 school year after a parent complained, included news articles about Bush’s Christian faith and Ashcroft’s prayer meetings with staffers.
But Judge Rebecca Beach Smith wrote in her opinion the case “is not about what free speech rights Lee has as an individual expressing himself on private property,” according to the Associated Press.
“Rather, this case is a question about what free speech rights Lee has as a public school teacher-employee,” she said.
School officials also removed from Lee’s classroom a flier promoting the National Day of Prayer.
Lee’s attorneys argued his bulletin boards were a limited public forum for the private speech of teachers, but Smith insisted they were part of his curriculum and, therefore, not protected by the First Amendment, the AP said.
Principal Crispin Zanca contended the school’s policy gave discretion to remove a wide variety of postings “regardless of whatever expression or demonstration of personal interest they may possess,” including offensive materials such as profanity. News articles must pertain directly to the class subject matter, the principal said.
Zanca allowed Lee to keep postings about the religious practices of Inca and Mayan civilizations, a photo of Boy Scouts praying in memory of 9-11 victims and an article and accompanying photo of a flight technician with “Pray for America” on his helmet.
As WorldNetDaily reported, in 2004 a California teacher sued after being prohibited from providing supplemental handouts to students about American history because the historical documents, including the Declaration of Independence, contained some references to God and religion.
According to the suit, Stephen Williams’ principal ordered him to submit his lesson plans and supplemental handouts to her for advance approval. Aside from Williams, a Christian, no other teachers were subject to the advance-screening requirement.