First Liberty Briefing: Court Finds School Districts Prevention of Religious Speech Constitutional

First Liberty Briefing: Court Finds School Districts Prevention of Religious Speech Constitutional December 11, 2017

Following the tragic shooting at Columbine High School, school officials invited students to decorate tiles for the interior of the building. However, when students wanted to include such phrases, as “Jesus Christ is Lord “and” 4/20/99 Jesus Wept the school district said no. Learn more at

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Court Finds School Districts Prevention of Religious Speech Constitutional

We all know the story of Columbine High School. When the school reopened, students were nervous to walk back into the hallways in which they had been held hostage and had their very lives threatened. School officials decided upon a project that would provide a memorial to their fellow students as well as gently reintroduce the students to the physical building.

Students were invited to decorate ceramic tiles to be installed on the interior walls of the school. Of course, there were some guidelines for the artwork: the shooters could not be named, no references to the date of the attack, nothing obscene, and no religious symbols.

Some students wished to write “Jesus Christ is Lord” and “4/20/99 Jesus Wept” on their tiles, but that broke the rules.

In Fleming v. Jefferson County School District, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit determined that the project was school-sponsored speech, bearing the imprimatur of the school and involving pedagogical interests. Therefore, the school could preclude particular religious viewpoints on the tiles without violating the First Amendment.

I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision to write and I’m not sure I agree with the court’s reasoning. Nonetheless, it reveals the difficulties present when a court is asked to balance the sometimes competing speech interests of a public school and its students.

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First Liberty Institute is the largest organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to protecting religious freedom for all Americans. Find out more here.

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