The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Contact: (202) 466-3234,Joe Conn,Rob Boston,Sandhya Bathija

California Teacher Has No Right to Push Religion in the Classroom, Americans United Tells Federal Appeals Court

School Officials Were Correct to Remove Math Teacher’s Religious Banners, Watchdog Group Says


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

"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.