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School Right to Remove Teacher's Religious Banners

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Public school officials did not violate a California teacher's rights when they asked him to remove two religious banners from his classroom, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has told a federal appeals court.

Bradley Johnson, a math teacher at Westview High School in San Diego, filed a lawsuit against school officials in 2007, claiming his free speech rights were infringed when he was ordered to take down his religious signs.

A U.S. district court in March ruled in favor of Johnson and ordered school officials to pay nominal damages.

"The district court got it wrong," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United's executive director. "A public school teacher has no constitutional right to push personal religious beliefs on students.

"I am confident that the appeals court will reverse this decision," Lynn continued. "It conflicts with current constitutional law and opens the door for teachers to proselytize students."

Americans United filed a friend-of-the-court brief<> with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in support of the Poway Unified School District, arguing that the school was well within its rights to ask Johnson to remove the religious displays.

Johnson, who is represented by the Michigan-based Religious Right group, the Thomas More Law Center, displayed two 7-foot by 2-foot banners in his classroom. One contained the phrases "In God We Trust," "One Nation Under God," "God Bless America" and "God Shed His Grace on Thee" written in red, white and blue stripes. Another banner contained the phrase, "All Men Are Created Equal, They are Endowed By Their Creator."

"It's clear that Johnson had a religious purpose in displaying these passages," said AU Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan. "There is no academic reason for a math teacher to display religious affirmations in his classroom. It just doesn't add up."

Americans United's brief in Johnson v. Poway Unified School District was drafted by Khan and AU Madison Fellow Michael Blank.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.


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