A legal group on Thursday filed a petition requesting the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case of a kindergarten student’s poster that was censored by a school because it contained the image of Jesus.
Liberty Counsel, which represents the student Antonio Peck, argues that the latest decision by a district court judge to dismiss Antonio’s claim conflicts with the Supreme Court’s precedent regarding a student’s right to challenge the actions of school officials.
The Supreme Court precedent is that students have the right to challenge schools officials as long as they remain subject to the district polices that prompted the actions, Liberty Counsel maintains.
“After ten years and three appeals, Antonio deserves an answer to the question of whether the school district violated his constitutional rights,” said Mathew D. Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel and dean of Liberty University School of Law, in a statement Thursday.
“The Second Circuit skirted the issue, and we are asking the Supreme Court to give Antonio the chance to get that answer.”
Liberty Counsel first filed the case on behalf of Antonio and his mother in 1999. Antonio is now in high school.
When Antonio was in kindergarten, he drew a poster with several religious figures with the words, “The only way to save the world” for an art project about the environment. Liberty Counsel said Antonio meant to say that God is the only way to save the environment.
The teacher at his New York public school rejected the poster because of its religious message and told Antonio to make another poster.
In the second poster, Antonio drew children holding hands around the globe, people recycling trash, and children picking up garbage. On the other said he drew a figure of a bearded man wearing a robe that was kneeling on the ground with hands stretched toward the sky. The figure is not identified in the drawing, but Antonio said the man is Jesus.
The teacher allowed the poster to be displayed on the cafeteria wall but hid the Jesus image.
“Despite the federal guidelines on religion in public schools recognizing that students may include religious theme in assignments, school officials insisted on folding Antonio Peck’s poster in half to hide the figure they interpreted to be Jesus,” Staver said.
Over the past ten years, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has twice reversed the decision of New York federal judge Norman Mordue who ruled that the public school officials had the right to censor the poster. The third time, however, the appeals court decided that Antonio was no longer entitled to challenge the district’s action because there was no reasonable expectation that his work would be censored again.
But Liberty Counsel pointed out that school officials said they censored the drawing of Jesus because they were concerned that adults might see the image and think the school was teaching religion. The legal group argues that the concern about how adults would react to a student’s work remains relevant throughout a student’s academic career and thus Antonio still has a legitimate reason to challenge the school district.
The case is known as Antonio Peck v. Baldwinsville Central School District.