The case of a former kindergarten student whose art project with Jesus was censored by his New York school will be heard in an appeals court Friday.
Antonio Peck, the student, had drawn a poster with several religious figures with the words, “The only way to save the world,” for an art project that had to show understanding about the environment. Antonio meant to express his belief that God is the only way to save the environment, according to his legal representative Liberty Counsel.
The poster was rejected by his kindergarten teacher because of its religious content and he was told to create a second poster.
For the second poster, Antonio had children holding hands around the globe, people recycling trash, and children picking up garbage. On the left side of the poster was the figure of a bearded man wearing a robe that was kneeling on the ground with hands stretched toward the sky. Although the figure is not identified, Antonio said it was Jesus.
The second poster was allowed to be displayed on a cafeteria wall, along with 80 other student posters. But what made Antonio’s poster different was it was folded in half to hide the Jesus figure.
"Despite the federal guidelines on religion in public schools recognizing that students may include religious themes in assignments, school officials insisted on folding Antonio Peck's poster in half to hide the figure they interpreted to be Jesus,” said Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel. “What a terrible message to send to students that everything is permissible so long as it is not Christian. These educators need educating about the Constitution and American history."
Liberty Counsel first filed the case on behalf of the Syracuse student and his mother in 1999. Ten years later, the case, Peck v. Baldwinsville School District, is on its third appeals hearing.
In 2000, New York federal judge Norman Mordue ruled that the school had the right to censor Antonio’s poster because of church and state concerns. A year later, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision and sent the case back to the trial court.
Mordue again ruled in favor of the school district in 2004, but the appeals court again reversed the ruling. The appeals court said public schools cannot censor a student’s viewpoint on a permissible subject matter when it is responsive to a school assignment or program.
The most recent ruling on the case was in October 2008, when Judge Mordue ruled once again that public school officials had the right to censor the poster. The current appeal was filed by Liberty Counsel in response to that ruling.
The federal appeals court will hear oral arguments on the case Friday morning.