A school district in Virginia has garnered controversy for refusing to allow a teacher to include a Bible verse in her email signature.
Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) has barred an unnamed teacher from putting John 3:16 in her email signature, with The Liberty Counsel becoming involved in the situation on behalf of the teacher.
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said in a statement released Monday that the First Amendment and recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions showed that the teacher should be allowed to include the verse in her signature.
“Loudoun County Public Schools cannot discriminate against a teacher who wants to use a Bible verse in her signature when other teachers are including nonreligious quotes,” Staver said.
On March 23, Richard L. Mast and Hugh C. Phillips of Liberty Counsel sent a letter to LCPS Acting Superintendent Daniel Smith demanding that the teacher be allowed “to restore the Bible verse to her email signature block.”
“The directive from LCPS to [the teacher] to remove an expression of her personal faith from her email signature block, based solely on its perceived religious nature, constitutes religious discrimination,” they wrote.
“The District permits teachers to personalize their signature blocks with personally-selected pronouns, quotations, pictures or phrases that are intended to express the teachers’ personal views on a variety of subjects, and that are attributable to the teachers, and not necessarily to LCPS.”
Mast and Phillips asserted that having a “Bible verse in an email signature block does not violate the Establishment Clause,” noting that “a teacher’s private speech in the workplace is not state endorsement of any religious message the teacher may choose to convey.”
“We urge the Loudoun County Public Schools to update its policies and practices to conform to current Supreme Court precedent; and not discriminate against teachers based on religious viewpoint,” they continued.
For his part, Acting Superintendent Smith responded to the complaint letter last Friday, arguing that the teacher was expressing her religious views in a non-private manner as a representative of the school.
“[The teacher] may make occasional personal use of School Division technology, including her email address, for non-work purposes when this use does not consume a significant amount of LCPS resources, does not interfere with her job performance or other School Division responsibilities, and is otherwise in compliance with LCPS policies,” wrote Smith.
“It is my understanding, however, that [she] is not including religious quotes in only her private correspondence, but also uses these religious quotes in her communications to students and their parents in her capacity as an LCPS employee. These communications are not private expression, but rather constitute school-sponsored speech bearing the ostensible endorsement of the School Division.”
Smith added that although “LCPS currently permits its employees to personalize their LCPS email signature blocks, as a public employer, LCPS has an interest in regulating the speech of its employees, particularly as such expressed speech imputes to LCPS's general endorsement thereof.”
“I do want to make clear [that the teacher] is entitled to include religious expressions in any private emails she sends, provided they otherwise comply with LCPS policies and applicable law, but we are constrained by applicable law and policy to prohibit her from doing so in emails she sends in her public role as an LCPS employee,” he continued.