ANN ARBOR, MI – The Thomas More Law Center announced today that it has appealed a controversial decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court. The appeal was filed in the case of Bradley Johnson v. Poway Unified School District late last week.
For the past twenty-five years, Bradley Johnson, a high school math teacher at the Poway School District located in California had been displaying red, white and blue banners in his classroom that contained patriotic phrases such as: “In God We Trust, ” “One Nation Under God, ” and “God Bless America.”
He displayed the banners pursuant to a 30-year school district policy that permitted teachers to maintain classroom displays of non-curricular messages that reflected their personal opinions and values. In effect, the school district designated classroom walls as forum for the expression of the teacher’s private opinions and viewpoints.
However, in 2007 school officials ordered Johnson to remove his banners because they promoted a “Judeo-Christian” viewpoint.
In an outrageous case of double standard, school officials allowed other teachers to display non-Christian religious displays in their classrooms. These displays included a 40-foot string of Tibetan prayer flags with images of Buddha hung across a classroom, a poster with Hindu leader Mahatma Gandhi’s “7 Social Sins;” a poster of Muslim leader Malcolm X; a poster of the Buddhist leader Dali Lama; and a poster containing the lyrics of John Lennon’s anti-religion song “Imagine, ” which begins, Imagine there’s no Heaven.
As a result, the Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which defends the religious liberty of Christians, filed a federal lawsuit against the school district on behalf of Johnson.
On September 4, 2008, Federal District Judge Robert T. Benitez agreed with the Thomas More Law Center. He ruled that “Johnson was simply exercising his free speech rights on subjects that were otherwise permitted in the limited public forum created by Defendants” and that there was an “ongoing violation of his First Amendment free speech rights.”
However, the Poway School District appealed the ruling and a three judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Judge Benitez’s decision ruling that the school district was justified in removing banners that mentioned God, while leaving untouched the Tibetan Prayer flags and the images of Buddha.
Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Law Center, commented, “This case is a prime example of how public schools across our nation are cleansing our classrooms of our Christian heritage while promoting atheism and other non–Christian religions under the guise of cultural diversity.”
Continued Thompson, “The Ninth Circuit Court’s rationale in allowing the Tibetan Prayer Flags and references to other religions while outlawing America’s patriotic slogans that mention God is unconvincing. Brad Johnson was simply exercising his free speech rights in a forum created by the school district to inform students of the religious foundations of our nation.”
Attempts to get a rehearing in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals failed, and so the Law Center pursued its only remaining option– a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari (appeal) to the United States Supreme Court.