Bradley Johnson and one of the two banners he was ordered to take down
A federal judge in California has handed down a scathing ruling against a school that required one of its teachers to remove signs celebrating the role of God in American history from his classroom walls.
As WND reported, math teacher Bradley Johnson had banners hanging in his classroom at Westview High School in San Diego, Calif., for more than 17 years with phrases like “In God We Trust” and “All Men Are Created Equal, They Are Endowed by Their Creator,” only to have the principal order them torn down during the 2007 school year.
But Johnson filed a lawsuit alleging the order a violation of his constitutional rights, and the teacher has now been rewarded with a court victory and a powerfully-worded ruling.
“May a school district censor a high school teacher’s expression because it refers to Judeo-Christian views, while allowing other teachers to express views on a number of controversial subjects, including religion and anti-religion?” posited U.S. District Court Judge Roger T. Benitez in his judgment. “On undisputed evidence, this court holds that it may not.”
He continued, “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.”
The judge further reprimanded the school, stating that while teachers at the district “encourage students to celebrate diversity and value thinking for one’s self, [they] apparently fear their students are incapable of dealing with diverse viewpoints that include God’s place in American history and culture.”
The older of Johnson’s two signs, which had hung on his wall without complaint for 25 years, measured 7 feet by 2 feet and contained the words “In God We Trust,” “One Nation Under God,” “God Bless America” and “God Shed His Grace On Thee.” The second banner, posted eight years after the first, quoted the Declaration of Independence by including the phrase, “All Men Are Created Equal, They Are Endowed by Their Creator.”
Johnson, the Westview High School teacher ordered to remove his educational banners
Though the district permits other teachers to hang Buddhist, Islamic and Tibetan prayer messages on their classroom walls, Johnson was nonetheless told to take his banners down.
Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel for the Thomas More Law Center, a not-for-profit law firm dedicated to the defense of religious freedoms, commented on the case.
“Many school officials exhibit hostility towards our nation’s Christian heritage. Yet, these same officials see no problem in actively promoting atheism or other religions under the guise of cultural diversity and tolerance,” said Thompson, whose firm filed the lawsuit on Johnson’s behalf. “Hopefully, Judge Benitez’s decision will help put an end to this double standard. It is the responsibility of our public schools to educate students on the crucial role Christianity played in our nation’s founding.”
The charge of a double standard was not lost on Judge Benitez.
“Fostering diversity,” Benitez ruled, “does not mean bleaching out historical religious expression or mainstream morality. By squelching only Johnson’s patriotic and religious classroom banners, while permitting other diverse religious and anti-religious classroom displays, the school district does a disservice to the students of Westview High School, and the federal and state constitutions do not permit this one-sided censorship.”
And in response to the school district’s claim that Johnson’s patriotic banners might make a Muslim student, for example, uncomfortable, Judge Benitez stated, “[A]n imaginary Islamic student is not entitled to a heckler’s veto on a teacher’s passive, popular or unpopular expression about God’s place in the history of the United States.”
The ruling prompted Robert Muise, the Law Center senior trial counsel handling the case, to comment, “It was refreshing to read an opinion that does justice to our nation’s history, rather than rewrite it.”
The judge concluded in his ruling that Johnson was entitled to a declaration that the school violated his constitutional rights and ordered the district to pay nominal damages of $10 per defendant and Johnson’s attorney’s fees and costs. Benitez also ordered the school district to allow Johnson to immediately re-hang the signs.
The Law Center reports Johnson returned the displays to his classroom walls late last week, on the same day the ruling was handed down.