The Mystery of the Christian School Plaques

We may need to call in Scooby Doo and the gang to solve the Mystery of the Christian School Plaques. In Midlothian, Texas there is a plaque embedded into the wall at the entrance of the elementary school that reads: “Dedicated in the Year of Our Lord 1997 to the Education of God’s Children and to their Faithful Teachers in the Name of the Holy Christian Church.”

A couple months ago the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the school district complaining about the clearly unconstitutional plaques and the school, told by their attorney that they would lose if they got sued over it, covered them up with duct tape. But someone removed the tape — the district says they have no idea who it was — and now they’re basically daring FFRF to sue them over it.

The group said the plaques violate the Constitution “far more” that earlier religious displays at public schools that were rejected by federal courts, because the plaques say “the Holy Christian Church” and contain a Latin phrase meaning “glory to God alone” or “glory to the only God.”

Midlothian ISD attorney John Hardy, with Hardy Cook in Tyler, responded to the letter two weeks later, saying the plaques would be removed as requested. The plaques were soon after covered up by school officials.

The school district said Wednesday that it has not been threatened with a lawsuit yet, but said that its attorney advised that it would lose in court if it refused the request and was sued.

The school district also said that unknown persons have uncovered the plaques.

In a brief news conference Thursday, Superintendent Jerome Stewart said that “as a district employee, my personal beliefs and opinions in this constitutional matter must be secondary to the current interpretation of the law of the land.”

He said the district will seek additional, outside legal counsel and has no plans to cover the plaques again.

The district’s about-face comes after two days of protests by approximately 100 students and parents at the school administration building, NBC-affiliate KXAS reported.

Stewart’s statement to not cover the plaques again was met with cheers.

And here’s why this all happened:

The Liberty Institute – a Plano, Texas-based religious freedom group – applauded Stewart’s announcement Thursday.

“Our preliminary investigation of the Midlothian plaque issue leads us to believe the school district created a limited public forum for plaques relating to the topic of the building dedication,” said Hiram Sasser, the group’s litigation director. “The plaque at issue is thus private speech and the First Amendment prohibits the government from censoring private speech simply because of its religious viewpoint.”

What happened here, I’m quite certain, is that the Liberty Institute contacted the school and said they’d represent them for free (but won’t cover the cost of the FFRF’s legal fees when they inevitably lose, I’m sure). And this claim that the plaque was part of an open forum is amusing. I can’t wait to see what evidence they have for that claim. Did they put out a public notice saying that anyone who wanted to embed a metal plaque in the brick exterior of the building could do so? If not, this is all a bunch of bullshit.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Chiroptera

    The school district also said that unknown persons have uncovered the plaques.

    Hmm. Very mysterious. Sounds like a god-proving miracle to me! Check mate, atheists!

  • Mr Ed

    “Our preliminary investigation of the Midlothian plaque issue leads us to believe the school district created a limited public forum for plaques relating to the topic of the building dedication,”

    I think they got us here, anyone wanting to put a plaque up at the dedication could have submitted one between 9:00 AM September 6th 1996 and 9:07. Granted the rules were kept in a locked file cabinet in a disused lavatory marked beware of leopard but anyone who was interested could have found them.

  • erichoug

    It’s amazing how many people can’t support the school the entire rest of the year but come out of the woodwork to help keep a ridiculous plaque out front.

    YEAH! We taught our kids a valuable lesson in Hypocrisy and the limits of freedom.

  • D. C. Sessions

    And another school administrator Takes A Stand For Jesus!

    … out of the education budget. Unfortunately, the Board didn’t include a line item for JesusStanding, so cancel biology and health classes to cover the expense.

  • grumpyoldfart

    Are you sure the lawyers on both sides aren’t just shit-stirring in order to earn some easy money?

  • dmcclean

    Nice Hitchhiker’s Guide reference, Mr Ed!

  • Loqi

    They’re challenging the FFRF? That’s insane. I’m reasonably certain *I* could successfully win a case against them. Actual legal professionals like the ones at the FFRF would consider this the legal equivalent of stretching before a warm-up jog.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    It was a Limited Public Forum. So limited that only one group got in. Look, if you wanted your plaque (“Dear Random, Meaningless Universe…”) on the wall, you should’ve been the Popular Majority.

  • Randomfactor

    On the plus side, every time a school district does something this stupid it becomes an object lesson for the others.

    I know of a high school which had a “school prayer” displayed up until last week, when it was brought to their attention that they could wind up paying six figures in a losing effort to keep it.

    Gone.

  • eric

    Holy Christian Church? Never heard that phrasing before. Is that an attempt to be inclusive of all sects, or is it a Protestent backhanded slap at Catholics? (Come to think of it, it could be both…an attempt by some Protestant sect to use a term that includes all Protestant sects, while insulting Catholics)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=730511544 billdaniels

    Every time a case like this arises the offending school administrators should take a walk around the school property and figure out what they are willing to lose*. Now they are just getting stupider.

    *Who thinks that the sports program will be the first to go? I think reading and math will go before they eliminate sports.

  • khms

    The Holy Christian Church International

    http://www.thcci.org/

    The Holy Christian Church is an assembly of Christian believers from all racial backgrounds united under a common doctrine and vision to carry the Message, …

  • Reginald Selkirk

    I’m not clear on how the plaque allegedly got there.

    If the building was built as a religious school, then later sold for use as a public school, I could see leaving an existing plaque in place on historical grounds. But there simply isn’t enough information in the article to draw a proper conclusion.

  • vereverum

    @ eric #10

    THCCI is possible, but with the exception of New Orleans all their facilities are in the northern US. Another etiology might be the Apostle’s Creed phrase “the holy catholic Church” with the adjective catholic replaced with Christian due to protestant anti RCC feelings. The new Lutheran Service Book has, in fact, replaced catholic with Christian in their version (though I don’t know the reasoning) but according to Wikipedia the settlement of Midlothian was primarily from the southern US so that would weaken the Lutheran connection. I think you are probably right.

  • http://mostlyrational.net tacitus

    Okay, I’m going to be a contrarian on this issue. Having grown up in the UK, where countless thousands of religious plaques are permanent fixtures in public schools around the country, I know how much they influence the religious views of the children — not at all. I’d wager that the pupils and teachers don’t even know they’re there most of the time.

    That was probably true for this plaque too. Odds are that few, if any of the parents or students who protested even knew what the plaque said before the FFRF sent the letter.

    So, even though I agree with the FFRF that the plaque should not be there, I think it would have been better for them to ignore this one so that it would not have become a hot button issue that has energized Christians in the community. Apathy is probably the most dangerous foe the religious right has (and they know it), and anything that helps push the outrage button when the stakes are this low only serves their purpose.

    So while I fully support the FFRF in many of their battles — especially where it comes to active indoctrination of kids or the military, or any other captive audience, I just think they should avoid stirring up a hornet’s nest when it comes to ceremonial plaques installed years ago that few people even notice, let alone read.

  • vereverum

    @ tacitus #15

    There are a couple o’ problems with it.

    One is that it creates a true slippery slope, i.e. further and more egregious constitutional violations become more likely.

    Another is that it’s like creating an easement by prescription. Upon claim of a further violation, the defense is to point to the plaque as having stood for (as of now) 17 years thus constituting a right. Which argument, if they defend it in court, they might use.

    Provided the plaque has actually been there for 17 years.

  • LightningRose

    Instead of sending letters directly to the school or school district, perhaps it would be better to send the letter to the school district’s insurance company. Faced with a guaranteed payout, I’m sure the insurance underwriters would tell the school to take it down yesterday, or face policy cancellation tomorrow.

    Heddle, what’s your Wholly Babble got to say on the subject?

  • whheydt

    Re LightningRose @ #17…

    Actually, what the insurance company is likely to do is to refuse to pay on the grounds that the school board ignored the advice of their counsel. That has happened before and it’s the trap yahoos like this fall into when some group like Liberty Counsel or Thomas More offer to defend them for free.

  • John Pieret

    The district’s about-face comes after two days of protests by approximately 100 students and parents at the school administration building, NBC-affiliate KXAS reported.

    Stewart’s statement to not cover the plaques again was met with cheers.

    They have been and continue to raise good little theocrats in Texas.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=730511544 billdaniels

    Vereverum: There have been Lutheran communities in the South since colonial days. I think they were mostly German.

  • God Emperor Lionel Lauer

    The obvious solution is to sneak in in the dead of night & either remove the plaque, or deeply etch “FUCK GOD” (or maybe “HAIL SATAN”) in it, leaving them with one hell of a dilemma.

  • http://mostlyrational.net tacitus

    #15:One is that it creates a true slippery slope, i.e. further and more egregious constitutional violations become more likely.

    Two things. First, I don’t believe you don’t set a legal precedent by ignoring these cases. Should more egregious violations occur, they can still be objected to and fought against.

    Second, as I mentioned, these types of ceremonial plaques are littered throughout the British school system (much of which is run by religious organizations!), and have not prevented the precipitous decline in religious observance over the last 50 years. The same thing is happening throughout Europe, South America, and other parts of the Christian world. Is America uniquely unable to follow the same path if we allow a bunch of banal ceremonial religious plaques to remain? I don’t think so.

  • corwyn

    First, I don’t believe you don’t set a legal precedent by ignoring these cases.

    And you would be wrong. Cases have been won on just that argument. ‘Tradition’ becomes the phrase of art.

    Is America uniquely unable to follow the same path

    America has not followed that same path in the same time period. What exactly the reasons are for that are not known.

  • whheydt

    Re: tacitus @ #22…

    A big difference is that Brittan has an established church. The US does not, and (by the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution) is explicitly *forbidden* from having one. (The 14th Amendment extends that prohibition to the Sates and their subdivisions.)

  • http://mostlyrational.net tacitus

    Yes, in the UK, the Church has always been far more entrenched in public society, and yet they have rapidly lost any semblance of the control they once had over the population, unlike here. The first amendment has been probably helped the religious right more than it’s hindered it over the last 50 years or so, giving them a never ending source of grievances for rallying the troops behind their cause.

    I know the plaque is unconstitutional, I just think it’s wasn’t worth the risk of creating another generation of culture warriors to get it torn down.

  • http://mostlyrational.net tacitus

    The UK is drowning in religious tradition. The religious right should fear court rulings that use tradition as their supporting argument, for that way apathy and obscurity lie.

  • freemage

    LightningRose says

    September 2, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    Instead of sending letters directly to the school or school district, perhaps it would be better to send the letter to the school district’s insurance company. Faced with a guaranteed payout, I’m sure the insurance underwriters would tell the school to take it down yesterday, or face policy cancellation tomorrow.

    Heddle, what’s your Wholly Babble got to say on the subject?

    Actually, I think Heddle is one of the few Christian posters I’ve seen who actually has read Matthew’s condemnations of pro-forma worship and hollow prayer, and realizes that this sort of thing falls well inside that category.

    I’m frustrated. Usually, in these cases, there’s a conscious decision to not harm the school’s finances any more than absolutely necessary. So the FFRF, or the ACLU, goes for their legal costs, and the plaintiff typically gets a token payout, but usually not very much. Once–just once–I’d like to see the FFRF or ACLU really go for the throat on punitive damages as well as legal costs. Set the kid up for life.

    Then, whenever they send out one of those warning letters, they include a copy of the judgement from that case. Advise them to demand that the Liberty Institute or Thomas Moore or whatever other hack Christian legal outfit is offering ‘free legal services’ to also indemnify the district if they lose.

  • vereverum

    @ tacitus #22

    Is America uniquely unable to follow the same path

    @ corwin #23

    America has not followed that same path in the same time period. What exactly the reasons are for that are not known.

    Perhaps it’s because we’ve not had the experiences. Britain has been at it longer. I don’t know about British education, but here, as far as I remember, taught the pilgrims were freedom loving people come to the new world to be free not that they severely persecuted all who were not puritans. In Britain they probably learn about Queen Mary in the 16th C and the burning of Protestants; that Jews were outlawed for 500 years; Henry, the 8th of that name, and the problems involved with a state church. Our religious contretemps, such as the Philadelphia bible riots, don’t usually make it into the history books, and we started off, mostly, without a state church. OTOH those very examples show the need for vigilance.