Joelle Silver, a teacher at Cheektowaga High School in New York, recently lost a court battle to display Bible verses and other religious items in her classroom.
According to The Buffalo News, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan shot down Silver's lawsuit that argued her free speech rights and religious expression had been violated by the Cheektowaga Central School District.
The case began back in 2013 when a student in Silver's class contacted the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) over a Biblical poster that Silver put up in her classroom, along with a drawing of three crosses.
The Bible poster reportedly included 1 Corinthians 16:13: "Be on guard. Stand true to what you believe. Be courageous. Be strong. And everything you do must be done in love."
According to the FFRF, the student also asserted that a guest speaker used Bible verses during a lesson about genetic defects, and Silver brought up Adam and Eve from the Bible when teaching about the human rib cage (Eve was formed from Adam's rib).
Silver said in court papers in 2013 that the school district threatened to terminate her if she did not remove the posters, and a "prayer request" box that she made for the school's Bible Study Club.
Silver complied, but accused school district officials of persecuting her because of her Christian beliefs.
"Public employees, including teachers, have to act neutrally with regard to religion," Rebecca Markert, staff attorney for the FFRF, told The Buffalo News in 2013. "They cannot push any religion."
According to Markert, Silver told her class that whichever student contacted the FFRF was lacking integrity and character, just like someone who would cheat on an exam; Silver denied these accusations.
Silver is represented by the American Freedom Law Center lawyer Robert J. Muise who insisted that the teacher was not pushing her Christian faith on students, and added: "They essentially want her to cease being a Christian once she enters school district property."
Muise called the school district's action "one of the most egregious examples of religious hostility I have witnessed in a public school," and said that any reference to religion is "treated almost as if it’s some disease that has to be eradicated."
"There’s a lot of case law that supports the district’s decision," Markert told the newspaper. "I don’t think the school district is forcing her not to be a Christian."
School Superintendent Dennis Kane, who is also being sued by Silver, summed up the conflict: "There’s rulings that favor both perspectives on this. More than anything else on this, each side wants an example."
Silver's lawsuit said that her Christian faith defines her, and Bible verses guide her as a public school teacher (paid by the state); she could petition her case to the U.S. Supreme Court.