Following in the footsteps of John Freshwater, a science teacher in Cheektowaga, NY has filed a lawsuit against the school for making her take down a bunch of posters and other items in her classroom that were solely designed to proselytize her students.
Joelle Silver, a teacher at the school for seven years, says she received a “counseling letter” to remove the items from her classroom. The suit was filed against the district, President of the Board of Education Brian J. Gould, and Superintendent of Schools Dennis Kane.
According to the complaint, filed by the American Freedom Law Center (AFLC), a group that fights for religious issues, Silver had four small posters in her room with psalm verses on them, a poster with a religious quotation from Ronald Reagan, a drawing that the district said is reference to the crucifixion, a poster that had a Bible verse superimposed on the American flag and school books, among other items. The letter Silver received instructed her to take the items down and warned that failing to do so could lead to serious disciplinary consequences.
Superintendent Kane, who says he respects Silver’s teaching abilities, says the materials were found to be inappropriate and the district determined they needed to be removed.
Good. The school is doing the right thing. What possible purpose could posters with Bible verses on them have in a science classroom other than to send a message to students that they should believe in the Bible? None, of course. The American Freedom Law Center, by the way, is an offshoot of the Thomas More Law Center, founded by Robert Muise, who worked for the TMLC (and was one of the attorneys that got crushed so badly in the Dover trial).
Silver said, “I believe that my First Amendment rights were violated last June when I was asked to do some things regarding taking some posters down and to censor my speech in the classroom. As a Christian and as an American I feel it’s incredibly important to fight to protect the rights that people have died to give them.”
The complaint filed against the district also says Silver was told not to participate in the Bible Study Club’s meetings or activities, so it could not be interpreted as being promoted by her or the district. The letter states Silver had a ‘prayer box’ in the classroom that was being used by the club throughout the school day and instructed her to remove it. The complaint alleges that, by contrast, the school’s Gay Straight Alliance is allowed to have students participate in club activities during the school day.
Robert Muise of the AFLC said, “She was even prevented from having any communication with students during the school day that might have any religious contents.”
No, your First Amendment rights were not violated. You don’t have a First Amendment right to proselytize your students in your capacity as a teacher. As always, the test here is quite simple. Would they be taking the same position if a Muslim teacher put posters in their room with verses from the Quran on them? Of course not. They’d be screaming bloody murder about it. All that talk about religious liberty and free speech would vanish.
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