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Missouri Family E-News

October 12, 2011

Federal Court Says No to
"God Bless America" 



A federal appeals court has ruled that a California School District can ban patriotic banners from the classroom. 
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that teachers are public employees, and school districts can control the messages they deliver.


The case arose in the classroom of a mathematics teacher at Westview School in the Poway Unified School District.  For more than 25 years Bradley Johnson had placed red, white, and blue banners around his classroom with common patriotic themes, including "God Bless America," "In God We Trust," "One Nation Under God," and "God Shed His Grace On Thee."


A fellow teacher objected to the banners, and the principal at Westview ordered Johnson to take them down.  School officials maintained that the banners were "too Christian," improperly promoted a "Judaeo-Christian" viewpoint, and might offend a Muslim student.


Mr. Johnson checked to see what was hanging in other teacher's classrooms.  He found Tibetan prayer flag banners, images of Buddha and Buddhist leader Dalai Lama, posters of Hindu Leader Mahatma Gandhi, and posters of Muslim leader Malcolm X.


Johnson decided to take his case to court, arguing that the school district was guilty of viewpoint discrimination.  But the Ninth Circuit has now ruled that the school district  

did not infringe on his First Amendment liberties.   


The Ninth Circuit judges said the school district could prohibit Johnson from "using his public position as a pulpit from which to preach his own views on the role of God in our nation's history."  The court said that a teacher can not "speak as freely at work about his views on God, our Nation's history, or God's role in our nation's history as he might on a sidewalk, in a park, or at his dinner table."


Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, derided the Ninth Circuit decision.  "This is another example of hostility towards Christianity.  Once again we see our public schools attempting to cleanse our nation's classrooms of our religious heritage while promoting atheism and other religions under the guise of cultural diversity."


"The rationale of the court in allowing Tibetan prayer flags and references to other religions while outlawing America's patriotic slogans that mention God is troubling and unconvincing," Johnson continued.


The Ninth Circuit ruling overturns a previous lower court ruling that supported Johnson's claim.  In that ruling, Judge Roger Benitez stated, " 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."  



Student Suspended for Comment About "Gay" Lifestyle



A Texas honors student has been suspended from school for expressing his opposition to homosexuality.  High school freshman Dakota Ary was given a three-day suspension from Western Hills High School in Fort Worth, Texas, because of his remark.


The topic of homosexuality arose during a German class, and Ary said, "I'm a Christian and, to me, being homosexual is wrong."  The teacher started yelling at Avery, accused him of "bullying," and told him "it was wrong to make such a statement in public school."


This is the same teacher who has repeatedly introduced the subject of homosexuality into German class, and the prior week displayed a picture in the classroom of two men kissing.


Matthew Krause, litigation counsel for Liberty Counsel, says the school district's actions are reprehensible.  "Dakota wasn't disrupting class.  He wasn't bullying or harassing anybody.  He was just stating his personal opinion on a topic somebody else brought up.  Just because you walk through the schoolhouse doors doesn't mean you shed your First Amendment rights."


Ary's mother, Holly Pope, says she was stunned by the school district's treatment of her son.  "Dakota is a very well-grounded 14 year-old.  "My son is on the honor roll with great grades.  He's been in church his whole life and he's been taught to stand up for what he believes."


After being threatened with a lawsuit by Liberty Counsel, the school district reduced Ary's suspension, and allowed him to play in that weekend's football game.   


U.S. Supreme Court OKs Moment of Silence in Illinois Schools  

The U.S. Supreme Court has let stand an Illinois law requiring the observance of a moment of silence in Illinois public schools.  The High Court declined to hear an appeal of a federal appeals court decision upholding the law.  The Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled last year that the law did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. 

The Illinois statute is called the Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act.  It requires that each school day begin with a brief moment of silence set aside for "silent prayer or silent reflection on the anticipated activities of the day."  The law stated that the time set aside for silence "shall not be conducted as a religious exercise."

The Seventh Circuit had ruled that the law did not amount to an endorsement of religion.  Judge Daniel Manion, writing for the court, stated that the law did not advance nor inhibit any particular religion.  Manion said there must be a legitimate secular reason for the law, and that the observance of silence satisfied a secular purpose.

The original lawsuit had been filed in 2007
by the Illinois ACLU against Buffalo Grove High School in suburban Chicago on behalf of Rob Sherman, an atheist activist and his high school daughter.  Sherman was represented in his appeal to the Supreme Court by Michael Newdow, another atheist activist who has litigated numerous cases seeking to squelch religious expression in public settings.

The ACLU had argued that the law did have a "predominantly religious purpose," and that it had the effect of "coercing children to pray in our public schools."  Sherman contended that the the Illinois Legislature was "sabotaging public education" by imposing the "moment of silence" requirement.

Matthew Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, says that the federal courts have made the right call.  "A moment of silence does not endorse a religion contrary to the the First Amendment.  A moment of silence is just that--a moment for a person to pray or meditate or do nothing.  They are not forcing anyone to pray or not to pray.  It's an accommodation of people who may choose to use this time for prayer."

The subject of a "moment of silence" has a long history in Illinois.  The Legislature first passed a law permitting the observance of a moment of silence in 1969.  That law was amended in 2007 to make the "moment of silence" mandatory.  Governor Rod Blagojevich vetoed that law, but the Legislature overrode his veto.

The Supreme Court's decision to allow the Illinois law to stand is significant because it stands in contrast to a prior Supreme Court decision in 1985 known as Wallace v. Jaffree.  In that case, the Supreme Court struck down an Alabama law establishing a moment of silence in that state's schools.  The High Court decided that Alabama legislators did not have a secular purpose for their law, having declared that their objective was to return prayer to the public schools.

Judge Manion drew that distinction between the Alabama and Illinois statutes, saying that Illinois had "offered" a secular purpose for their law, namely, "establishing a period of calm the students and prepare them for a day of learning."  Illinois joins Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia in requiring a dedicated "moment of silence" at the beginning of the school day.

David Smith, executive director of the Illinois Family Institute, has been a strong proponent of the law.  "This ruling simply gives students a choice.  It simply allows students to take a moment to recognize their Creator if they choose to do so."


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