A New Mexico public school has caved to the demands of a Wisconsin-based atheist group and painted over a mural that featured an inspirational verse from the New Testament.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national secularist nonprofit dedicated to advocating for a strict adherence to separation of church and state and that regularly pressures schools and local government entities to do away with anything that can be considered an endorsement of religion, sent a letter on Aug. 15 to complain about a mural displayed in the hallway of Freshman Academy of Clovis.
The mural was a painting of a dove flying over an anchor. In the bottom righthand corner of the mural are the words "Hope anchors the soul — Hebrews 6:19."
The FFRF letter, which was written by legal fellow Christopher Line and sent to Clovis Municipal School District Superintendent Jody Balch, explains that the organization was contacted by a concerned parent who raised concern about the mural's endorsement of the Bible. According to the letter, it is believed the mural was painted by the school's former art teacher, Molly Miller.
In the letter, Line argued that such a painting violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The clause states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."
"The District violates the Constitution when it allows its schools to display religious symbols or messages," Line wrote. "Public schools may not advance, prefer or promote religion."
The letter cited the 1992 Supreme Court case of Lee v. Weisman, a case in which the court ruled that public schools cannot sponsor clergy to come and conduct invocations even if they are nondenominational. It also cited the 1980 case of Stone v. Graham, in which the court struck down a Kentucky statute requiring that the Ten Commandments be posted in every public classroom. Additionally, Line cited the case of Washegesic v. Bloomingdale Public Schools, which ruled in favor of a student requesting his school remove a portrait of Jesus.
"This display violates this basic constitutional prohibition by creating the appearance that the district prefers religion over nonreligion and Christianity over all other faiths," Line wrote.
It didn't take long for the school to react to Line's letter. According to FFRF, Balch replied to Line's letter via email about an hour later to inform him that the school was in the process of painting the wall to remove the mural.
In a statement provided to the The Christian Post on Tuesday, the school district explained that the decision to paint over the mural was made in order to be consistent with the principle of "separation of church and state."
"Clovis Municipal Schools understands the separation of church of state. Therefore, the mural has been removed," a school district representative told CP.
The school district could not confirm who painted the mural.
"We are pleased that the school district reacted with alacrity to remedy this violation," FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a statement. "This action ensures that all of its students — of any religious background or no religious background — feel welcome and included."
According to KRQE News 13, which interviewed a number of Clovis residents about the mural's removal, most people in the community interviewed were not offended by the mural.
"As far as being on a wall at my school I'd have no problems with that," Clovis resident Kim Cane said.