It’s the official U.S. motto, but some schools are saying it is not for everyone. In God we trust, a four-word phrase that represents the foundation for the United States of America, used in many famous presidential speeches, is stirring up huge controversy in one California school.
In a recent ruling, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said a school board and principal have the right to set limitations on freedom of speech at their school.
Bradley Johnson doesn’t agree. The mathematics teacher in California’s Poway Unified School District is known for his patriotic and religious banners. He has been teaching in the school district for many years but when he transferred to a new high school in 2007, the principal ordered him to take down the faith based messages. Ever since, Johnson has been fighting for his freedom of speech. He felt attacked for his Christian beliefs and decided to bring the matter to the federal court.
Johnson says the banners were merely religious points of view and he didn’t see why the banners were wreaking havoc in the school district. He mentioned that a Dalai Lama poster and Malcolm X poster in other classrooms portrayed their own political or religious messages, and that he felt targeted because of Christianity.
The principal who took down the banners, Dawn Kastner, told the court that the banners were about 7 ft wide by 2 ft. His argument was that Johnson was trying to advocate one specific religion because of his massive banners.
Last year, federal Judge Roger Benitez agreed that Johnson’s freedom of speech was violated and ordered that he receive a token $10 from all nine-district officials who made him take down the messages.
Johnson thought he had won the legal battle and put the banners back up, but the school board has just appealed the decision. A three-judge panel in San Francisco said Benitez mixed up first amendment restrictions as well as government agency free speech regulations of private citizens. Johnson will have to pay all of the school district legal payments.