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Bradley Johnson and one of the two banners he was ordered to take down

A team of free-speech experts has announced plans to challenge a decision by a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that banished the national motto, “In God We Trust,” from a school teacher’s classroom, even while allowing the display of Tibetan prayer flags and the sayings of the Dalai Lama.

The Thomas More Law Center today said it will appeal the ruling from the three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit to the full court.

If the appeal is accepted, it means that 11 judges on the bench would be selected to rehear the case that erupted over school district demands that Brad Johnson, a high school math teacher at the Poway Unified School District in San Diego, take down banners, including “One Nation Under God” and “God Bless America.”

“Astonishingly, the officials left untouched classroom displays by other teachers that included Dalai Lama and Malcom X posters, Tibetan prayer flags, anti-religious song lyrics, and gay and lesbian promotional materials,” the announcement from the law center said.

The school allowed a 35-to-40 foot string of Tibetan prayer flags with images of Buddha, a poster with the lyrics from John Lennon’s anti-religion song “Imagine” (which begins, “Imagine there’s no Heaven), a poster with Hindu leader Mahatma Gandhi’s “7 Social Sins,” a poster of Muslim leader Malcolm X and another of Buddhist leader Dalai Lama.

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It started in 2007 when school officials ordered Johnson to take down the banners, which were large red, white and blue images, because they promoted a “Judeo-Christian” point of view, officials said.

The case was decided in Johnson’s favor when it was before a trial judge, but the appellate panel reversed the decision.

“The three-judge panel’s rationale in allowing the Tibetan prayer flags and references to other religious while outlawing America’s patriotic slogans that mention God is troubling and unconvincing,” said Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the law center. “Brad Johnson was simply exercising his free speech rights regarding the religious foundations of our nation.”

He said the school district is expressing antagonism toward Christians in its decision.

“This is another example of hostility towards Christianity and attempts by public schools to cleanse our nation’s classrooms of our religious heritage while promoting atheism and other religions under the guise of cultural diversity,” he said.

During the trial, the school district was scolded by the judge.

“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.”

Johnson, the Westview High School teacher ordered to remove his educational banners

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 school board, enraged at the criticism, immediately voted to appeal the loss.

The banners were about seven feet by two feet, and besides the references to God had an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence: “All Men Are Created Equal, They Are Endowed By Their Creator.”

The trial judge said it not only was censorship, but censorship of a specific viewpoint that the school was imposing.


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