Calif. Teacher Prohibited From Displaying 'God' Banners In Classroom

A federal appeals court in California rejected the claim of a Christian high school teacher who said his First Amendment rights were violated when the school's principal ordered him to take down classroom banners that referred to God.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said that government agencies, such as public schools, have the right to restrict speech of employees in the workplace in the same sense that private companies have the right to limit what employees say in the workplace.

Bradley Johnson, a mathematics teacher in the Poway Unified School District in San Diego, had displayed 7x2 feet banners that said "In God We Trust," "God Bless America," "One Nation Under God," and "God Shed His Grace on Thee" for more than twenty years. But when he changed schools in 2007 and put the banners up in his new classroom, principal Dawn Kastner ordered that they be taken down.

Kastner said the large size of the banners made them "a promotion of a particular viewpoint."

Johnson, who also sponsors a Christian club at the school, said the banners were no different than a Malcolm X poster that another teacher at the school had on the wall of a classroom.

That argument was successful last year when Johnson's attorney, Robert Muise of the Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center, presented the claim and won in federal court.

"There's a sort of knee-jerk reaction to anything that has religious connotations, and specifically Christian religious connotations," Muise told the North County Times.

"They had no problem with a 40-foot string of Tibetan prayer flags in another classroom or a poster of John Lennon's 'Imagine,' which has anti-religious lyrics."

Judge Roger Benitez, who presided over the case, agreed. "By squelching only Johnson's patriotic and religious classroom banners, while permitting other diverse religious and anti-religious classroom displays, the school district does a disservice to the students of Westview High School and the federal and state constitutions do not permit this one-sided censorship," he wrote in his decision.

However, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said that Judge Benitez confused the government's inability to restrict and censor in the public sphere with a workplace's ability to do so.

According to CBS San Francisco, Judge Richard Tallman wrote in the decision that Johnson is free to express his thoughts on God "on a sidewalk, in a park, at his dinner table, or in countless other locations," but he is not allowed to "use his public position as a pulpit from which to preach his own views on the role of God in our nation's history to the captive students in his mathematics classroom."