Teacher forced to remove cross, Bible verse from classroom after atheist group complains

Wikimedia Commons/Rantemario
Wikimedia Commons/Rantemario

An Indiana public middle school has instructed a teacher to remove Christian wall decor from a classroom after a national secularist legal organization argued that the religious decorations violate the constitutional rights of non-Christian students. 

An English teacher from Honey Creek Middle School in Terre Haute, Vigo County, was asked to remove a Latin cross and a Bible quote once hanging on the wall of a classroom, the Freedom From Religious Foundation announced earlier this month. 

The school district's instruction came after a "concerned parent" reported the teacher's decor to the Wisconsin-based group that advocates for a strict separation of church and state.

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In an Oct. 5 statement, the organization said it is "pleased to report that the Vigo County School Corp. has removed Christian displays from the classroom" after receiving a Sept. 8 demand letter from FFRF Legal Fellow Samantha Lawrence.

The wall decor included a quote from Jeremiah 29:11, which reads: "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

FFRF argued that allowing a public school teacher to have religious displays in the classroom violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

"FFRF contacted the district to remove the cross and scripture from the classroom because the First Amendment's Establishment Clause prohibits public schools from promoting religion," FFRF told The Christian Post in an email statement. 

"Public school teachers cannot constitutionally use their positions to promote their personal religious beliefs to students." 

The school district responded to FFRF in a Sept. 26 letter from attorney Jonathan Hayes confirming that the Bible quote and Latin cross were removed from the classroom.  

VCSC Superintendent Chris Himsel said in a statement shared with The Tribune-Star that the school district recognizes "the fact that we serve many families and employ many people who exercise a variety of different religious beliefs and practices."

"As a public school corporation, we also recognize that we must balance an individual's right to exercise one's religious beliefs in a manner that does not intentionally or unintentionally force the beliefs onto others," wrote Himsel. 

FFRF maintains that courts have "continually held that public school districts may not display religious messages or iconography in public schools," arguing that such displays proselytize to students and create "the appearance that the district preferred religion over non-religion, and Christianity over all other faiths."

Lawrence cited the 2000 U.S. Supreme Court case Santa Fe Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Doein which the high court struck down a school district policy permitting student-led, student-initiated prayer at football games as unconstitutional. She also cited the 1980 case of Stone v. Graham, where the Supreme Court struck down a Kentucky law requiring all public schools to place a copy of the Ten Commandments in each classroom. 

"Maintaining students' constitutional protections is the duty of all public schools," Annie Laurie Gaylor, the FFRF co-president, said in a statement. "A student looks to their teacher for guidance and support. Projecting religion onto them isolates nonreligious and non-Christian students."

Nicole Alcindor is a reporter for The Christian Post. 

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