The U.S. Supreme Court is being asked to fix the outcome of a series of hearings and rulings in the lower courts that erupted when a New York school district told one teacher, under threat of dismissal, to keep her faith in “a folder to be kept hidden in her desk.”
Officials with the American Freedom Law Center have confirmed they have filed a petition seeking permission from the high court to argue the case brought by Joelle Silver after she was threatened by officials with the Cheektowaga Central School District.
The case has been winding through the lower courts for several years already, with the most recent appellate decision refusing her First Amendment rights, officials with the AFLC said.
Silver has taught science in the district, near Buffalo, N.Y., for years.
“As a devout Christian, Silver’s faith defines who she is as a person, and it guides all aspects of her life, both public and private. She does not cease being a Christian because she is employed by the school district. As a Christian, Silver is inspired by the Word of God, which guides her actions, including her actions as a public school teacher,” AFLC explained.
As part of her faith, she kept some small stickies with inspirational quotes on them at her desk, along with some other religious messages.
Then, abruptly, she got a “counseling letter” in which the district “forced Silver to cleanse her classroom, her speech, and her actions of anything religious in nature, as if Silver’s Christian faith was an infectious disease that needed to be eradicated,” AFLC reported.
She was ordered to “remove all items of a religious nature from her classroom, including, among others, a poster with the following inspirational quote, ‘Be on guard. Stand true to what you believe. Be courageous. Be strong. And everything you do must be done in love. 1 Corinthians 16:13-4.’ The quote was superimposed over an American flag and school books.”
She also was ordered to get rid of the small sticky notes and was told if she really did have to look at her Bible occasionally, she had to “keep such material in a descreet folder that only [she] will have access to.”
“Essentially, the school district forced Silver’s Christian faith into a folder to be kept hidden in her desk,” the AFLC said.
Even further, the district ordered, “Except for wearing religious jewelry, such as a cross, I am also directing you to refrain from all other forms of communication with students during the school day (whether verbal, email, texting, written, etc.) that would conflict with your duty to show complete neutrality toward religion and to refrain from promoting religion or entangling yourself in religious matters.”
Failure could mean “termination,” the school threatened.
But at the same time, “a social worker at the high school displays inside and outside of her office various messages that promote the ‘gay rights’ agenda, including, among many others, a poster stating, ‘Acceptance Practiced Here,’ which is in the rainbow colors of the gay-rights movement and contains the caption, ‘Brought to you by your GSA and Gay and Lesbian Youth Service of WNY.'”
Besides being hostile to religion, the actions “convey an impermissible, government sponsored message of disapproval of the Christian faith,” the petition explains.
“Indeed, these actions send a clear message to Silver that she is an outsider, not a full member of the political and school community because she is a Christian.”
One of the quotes banned was from President Reagan, who said, “Without God there is no virtue because there is no prompting of the conscience … without God there is a coarsening of the society; without God democracy will not and cannot long endure … If we ever forget that we are One Nation Under God, then we will be a Nation gone under.”
The petition explains to the court, “Almost 50 years ago, this court declared that citizens do not surrender their First Amendment rights by accepting public employment. … This principle of law applies to public school teachers as well.”
The petition said, “At the end of the day, this petition seeks to resolve whether respondents’ broad, viewpoint-based restrictions on petitioner’s personal, non-curricular speech – speech which includes the spoken word and messages expressedon ‘sticky notes,’ in emails and on posters – are constitutional…”