Teacher Loses Suit Over Religious Items in Class


A teacher from Cheektowaga, New York has lost a lawsuit she filed after her school told her she could not have Christian posters on her classroom wall and other religious items. Nearly all of the claims in the lawsuit will be dismissed.

Joelle Silver, who teaches biology and life sciences at Cheektowaga High School, sued the district after she was ordered to remove religious posters and quotes. The district was concerned that her students might be influenced by her personal religious beliefs.

Silver took down a New Testament quote and another from Ronald Reagan, which spoke about the value of God to society and democracy.

A group called Freedom from Religion had received a complaint by a student who objected to the religious posting in the classroom. The group threatened a lawsuit if the district didn’t take action.

Silver then filed a federal civil rights lawsuit through a group called The American Freedom Law Center. It referred to itself as a non-profit Judeo-Christian law firm.

In a letter to Silver, Kane said, “You are using your publicly-funded classroom to express your personal religious beliefs to your students.”

The letter ordered her to “refrain from all other forms of communication with students that would conflict with your duty to show complete neutrality toward religion.”

The American Freedom Law Center is a 4th tier Christian legal group founded by Robert Muise, formerly an attorney with the Thomas More Law Center (and an attorney in the Dover trial) and Islamophobic bigot David Yerushalmi. Their press release on the case is predictably inane:

The School District also ordered Silver to remove small, personal sticky notes that contained inspirational Bible quotes and religious messages that she kept discreetly on her desk. To add further insult, the School District informed Silver that if she needed “to occasionally glance at inspirational Bible verses between classes during the course of the day,” then she should “keep such material in a discreet folder that only [she] will have access to” and only “so long as [she took] precautions not to share it or disclose its content to [her] students or their parents or guardians.”

In addition, the School District ordered Silver “to refrain from all other forms of communication with students during the school day (whether verbal, email, texting, written, etc.) that would conflict with [her] duty to show complete neutrality toward religion and to refrain from promoting religion or entangling [herself] in religious matters.”…

Muise continued: “To assert that the School District was justified in ordering Ms. Silver to remove small, sticky notes containing handwritten, inspirational Bible verses that she attached to the back her desk for fear that these small, personal notes would violate the Establishment Clause, as the School District argued and the magistrate judge found, is simply absurd. Indeed, this case should remove any lingering doubts as to whether our government, which includes the judiciary, is hostile to religion. But I can assure you that this fight is far from over.”

David Yerushalmi, AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel, commented: “We are clearly witnessing the systematic removal of religion from all spheres of life, which is why it is critically important that we redouble our efforts. We can assure you that the American Freedom Law Center will not sit idly by as the government tries to take away our first freedoms.”

All nonsense, of course. There is no First Amendment right to proselytize children in public schools. As a teacher, she is a government agent. They have no chance whatsoever of winning this case on appeal, even with the current lineup of the Supreme Court. You can read the full ruling here.

Comments

  1. Doug Little says

    “We are clearly witnessing the systematic removal of religion from all spheres of life, which is why it is critically important that we redouble our efforts. We can assure you that the American Freedom Law Center will not sit idly by as the government tries to take away our first freedoms.”

    Really…. all spheres must not include their churches or their homes or just about anywhere else, say a quiet bench in the park when they can take a moment and reflect on their imaginary friend.

  2. Sastra says

    The School District also ordered Silver to remove small, personal sticky notes that contained inspirational Bible quotes and religious messages that she kept discreetly on her desk.

    If this is indeed the case — that these sticky notes were small, attached to the back of her desk, and there only for her own inspiration — then they would never have prompted the lawsuit in the first place … not on their own. The overwhelming likelihood is that the kid would not have complained, and if he or she did FFRF would have overlooked it in search of bigger fish to fry. The fact that these “discreet” little sticky notes were part of a much larger, much more intrusive pattern of attempts to proselytize her students (‘concern’ that students might be influenced — but that’s the point!) is I’m sure critical to any demand for their removal. I’m also willing to bet that the discreet little sticky notes for her own benefit somehow regularly found their way into student-teacher conversations and/or class discussions.

    But of course the Christians here are focusing on the unfairness of this one issue, as if it existed in isolation.
    “My mom grounded me for going to the library!”
    “Didn’t you take the car without permission, go 20 miles over the limit, and crash it into a parked car while you were texting?”
    “Well, yeah. But the main thing here is I was going to the library and got in trouble for that.”

  3. busterggi says

    “Indeed, this case should remove any lingering doubts as to whether our government, which includes the judiciary, is hostile to religion.”

    And that is why all those laws forcing conversion to atheism have been passed…

  4. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    Huh. I must have missed the 11th commandment: Thou shalt keep handwritten Post-It notes with bible versus on them stuck to your desk. Who knew?

  5. eric says

    “We are clearly witnessing the systematic removal of religion from all spheres of life…

    Its not really apt, but this reminded me of the Blues Brothers.

    “Say mister, in which spheres is your religious expression being repressed?”
    “In both kinds: federal AND state government”

  6. says

    I’m more concerned that someone teaching children finds it necessary to consult hand written sticky notes for inspiration throughout the day. What a wack-a-doodle!

  7. martinc says

    Joelle Silver, who teaches biology and life sciences

    Hmmm. Call me cynical, but I find myself wondering if the subject of evolution ever rears its ugly head in her classroom …

  8. Moggie says

    If she needs uplifting sticky notes to get her through the day, perhaps the compassionate thing would be to offer her counselling.

  9. eric says

    @6 and @8: maybe the problem isn’t too many inspirational sticky notes, its too few. She probably needs one more, stuck on the desk where she can see it throughout the day:

    “DO YOUR JOB.”

  10. magistramarla says

    I wish that someone would have told these things to the teachers in my department. Of course, I taught in Texas, where even the principal’s secretary sent out annoying prayer e-mails. Someone like me was the exception in my school.

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