Lawyers for the Alliance Defending Freedom have gone to federal court in Texas asking for an order that the Lubbock school district let its client, a ministry called Jesus Tattoo, be allowed to participate in the advertising program on district properties.
School officials had issued a statement that the ministry would not be allowed to participate because the district “is prohibited from authorizing this public religious speech on government property using the jumbotron which is governmental property at a school-related event based on the Establishment Clause.”
But attorneys for ADF noted that other community groups had advertised their commercial messages there. The school also had allowed other religious groups to participate in the advertising program, and the request from Jesus Tattoo was the only one to have been rejected.
The ADF claim, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas Lubbock Division, alleges violations of the First Amendment. ADF asserts school officials were utilizing virtually unlimited discretion in choosing to accept one religious ad but rejecting another.
“For example, the district has permitted … United Supermarkets, Wentz Orthodontics, Sonic, South Plains College, Coronado Cheer, Reagor Auto Mall, Taco Villa, Dions, Academy, Tejas Motors, Whataburger, Chick-fil-A, Mission Rehab Services, Lubbock National Bank, Advanced Graphics, Brodericks Therapeutic World, Lubbick Area Amputee Support Group, Superior Health Plan, All About Looks, Regal Pet Resort, and Little Guys Moves to advertise on campus.”
Further, Lubbock Christian University; Full Armor Ministries; Just Kids Preschool, run by Sunset Church of Christ; and Bethany Baptist Church have advertised.
“In denying plaintiffs the right to utilize the numerous communication channels at Lowrey Field during high school football games, and at other district facilities and sports venues throughout the school year, for advertising and promotional purposes because their message contains religious content and a religious point of view, the district exhibited hostility toward religion that is the antithesis of neutrality,” the action claims.
In a statement, Supt. Berhl Robertson Jr. said: “Lubbock ISD has not received any official notification of a lawsuit, nor has the district been served. However, we understand a press release has been sent by the plaintiff’s out-of-state attorneys to the local media. We cannot comment on potential pending litigation, but we would always prefer to spend tax dollars in classrooms rather than courtrooms.”
The claims states that the district “impermissibly prefers some religious views over others, by permitting certain nonschool-related organizations to engage in religious speech … and by soliciting advertisements from churches, while barring plaintiffs’ religious advertisements.”
The preference, the claim asserts, violates the Establishment Clause, Equal Protection, Due Process, Free Exercise and Freedom of Speech parts of the First Amendment.
“No one deserves to be silenced simply for having a viewpoint that school officials don’t favor,” said Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “When a school creates an opportunity for community advertising, it cannot single out religious messages for censorship. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech for all people, regardless of their religious or political beliefs.”
The case developed in October when the district denied the ad request from David L. Miller, founder of Little Pencil LLC, which promotes the Bible’s teachings through contemporary marketing campaigns.
The ad includes the website address jesustattoo.org and an image of Jesus Christ wearing tattoos that represent the sins he bore on the cross. The site features a video that shows struggling individuals going to Jesus for help. Using a tattoo pen, Jesus changes their negative tattoos, representing their struggles, into positive ones.
“Christians should not be prevented from expressing their beliefs in public venues,” added Legal Counsel Matt Sharp. “We hope that Lubbock Independent School District will revise its policy so that everyone can exercise their constitutionally protected freedoms.”
The ministry organization said it really is “as simple as it appears.”
“We are a small group of people humbled by the love of Jesus. We are not a church. We encourage you to tell as many people as possible. That’s it.”