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Poway USD guilty of ‘Viewpoint-based restriction’

Viewpoint-based restriction’

Hearing today before federal appeals court in case of teacher ordered to take down classroom banners

News from the Thomas More Law Center

Thomas More Law Center senior trial counsel Robert Muise will defend the right of public high school teacher Brad Johnson to display patriotic banners in his classroom before a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals today at 9 a.m. in Pasadena.

The Poway Unified School District ordered Johnson to take down his banners that contained historical slogans such as “In God We Trust, ” “One Nation under God, ” as well as the preamble to the Constitution, because “they may offend a Muslim student.”

Johnson had been displaying the banners for 25 years. He was ordered to remove them in 2007.

Because of the national significance of this case, C-SPAN will be videotaping the oral arguments, which will be broadcast at a later date.

The school district allowed religious classroom displays by other teachers, including displays of a 35- to 40-foot string of Tibetan prayer flags with images of Buddha; a poster with the lyrics from John Lennon’s anti-religion song “Imagine;” a poster with Hindu leader Mahatma Gandhi’s “7 Social Sins;” a poster of Muslim leader Malcolm X; and a poster of Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama.

TMLC filed a federal lawsuit in 2007 against the Poway Unified School District, alleging that the school district violated Johnson’s constitutional rights by imposing a viewpoint-based restriction on his speech.

In February 2010, U.S. District Court Judge Roger T. Benitez ruled in favor of Johnson in a 32-page, strongly worded opinion critical of the Poway school district's aversion to mentioning God.

“[The school district officials] apparently fear their students are incapable of dealing with diverse viewpoints that include God’s place in American history and culture… That God places prominently in our Nation’s history does not create an Establishment Clause violation requiring curettage and disinfectant for Johnson’s public high school classroom walls,” wrote Judge Benitez. “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.”

Shortly after his ruling, however, the school district board voted to appeal Judge Benitez's ruling at a closed-session meeting.

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