School rejected ‘God bless’ message

By WND Staff

In a ruling that upheld freedom to express religious faith in public schools, a federal court said a district cannot ban a fund-raising tile with the word “God.”

Ann and Paul Seidman of Scottsdale, Ariz., wanted to purchase and have installed on a wall at Pinnacle Peak Elementary School a saltillo tile that said, “God Bless Quinn, We Love You Mom & Dad.”

But the Paradise Valley Unified School District Court rejected the message, contending it violates the so-called “separation of church and state.”

Judge Paul Rosenblatt ruled yesterday, however, it was the Seidmans’ free speech and equal protection rights that were violated.

In his opinion, Rosenblatt said that while schools can selectively regulate controversial subject matter, “once a forum is opened up to speaking on a particular topic, a school cannot prohibit others from speaking on the basis that what they intend to say has been spoken from a religious perspective.”

The district advertised its “Tiles for Smiles” program as a way to “immortalize your child or family” with a “special message of your choosing” and placed no restrictions on subject matter, except to reserve the “right to make minor modifications.”

“In God We Trust” was an acceptable message, the district said, but not “God bless” anyone, believing the latter message constitutes excessive religious content.

Rosenblatt said the district did not reject other tiles with statements of personal belief, noting some were “nearly identical to the Seidmans’ messages only from a secular viewpoint.”

The judge cited examples, includingn “Bless Our School,” “No Question is Wrong,” “Live Free” and “The Zuckerman Family Wishes You Peace.”

“Censoring the Seidmans was both silly and inexcusable,” said Peter Gentala, counsel with the Center for Arizona Policy who litigated the case with assistance from the Alliance Defense Fund.

“They were merely trying to exercise free speech in a public forum just like everyone else who wanted to be part of the program,” Gentala continued. “Though the words ‘separation of church and state’ are not found in the Constitution, they are often used to silence people of faith. Thankfully, that didn’t happen here in the end.”

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