A New York state high school biology teacher has filed a complaint against her school district over having to remove expressions of her Christian faith from her classroom upon threat of being fired.
Joelle Silver filed the complaint on Thursday against the Cheektowaga Central School District in the US District Court of the Western District of New York. Silver's complaint was submitted by David Yerushalmi, Esq. and Robert J. Muise, Esq. of the American Freedom Law Center.
"This case seeks to protect and vindicate fundamental constitutional rights. It is a civil rights action brought under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, challenging Defendants' acts, policies, practices, and/or customs that, individually and collectively, deprived and continue to deprive Plaintiff of her fundamental constitutional rights," reads the introduction of the complaint in part.
Muise, AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel, said in a statement that Cheektowaga Central's removal of the Christian symbols from Silver's classroom is "one of the most egregious examples of religious hostility I have witnessed in a public school."
In June 2012, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation learned of Silver's religious displays in her classroom. These displays included four posters with Bible verses, a painted cross in the hallway by the entrance to the room, and had mentioned her Christian beliefs during class.
"Teachers should strive to conduct their classes in an inclusive manner so that students can participate fully without compromising their own personal beliefs," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert to Dennis Kane, Superintendent of Cheektowaga Central School District.
In an interview with local media, Kane explained that the items were completely removed from Silver's classroom by September due to pressure from the FFRF and the advice from the School District's constitutional lawyers.
"Freedom From Religion [is] more of an Establishment Clause separation of church and state group. What happened was a student went to this out-of-state group and complained about the classroom and this teacher's classroom," said Kane to WBFO 88.7 Buffalo.
In a statement, Yerushalmi of AFLC argued that public schools have been "bastions of religious hostility."
"Our Nation was founded to promote religious liberty. Yet, for years our public schools have been bastions of religious hostility. That trend needs to change, and the American Freedom Law Center is committed to changing it," said Yerushalmi.