Tea party supports Poway teacher's 'God' banners

SAN DIEGO - Dozens of tea party members held signs and American flags outside Westview High School in the Poway Unified School District in support of a teacher forced to take down signs with the word "God" from his classroom walls. 

“[Brad Johnson] has been forced by the 9th Circuit to take down his signs that say 'In God we Trust', 'God Bless America',” said protest organizer Dr. Bridget Melson. “That’s fine if you’re going to do that but make everybody do it.”

“This is part of his personality, the things he believes in, the historical, cultural documents of our past,” said protestor Linda Howard.  “He is in no way promoting Christianity or any type of religion.”

Last week a three-judge panel of the 9th U-S Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court decision and ruled that the school district had the right to limit speech of public employees in the work place.

The district’s legal counsel said the judges made the right decision.

“We believe that the Ninth Circuit properly followed the Constitution and current Supreme Court case law in ensuring that all students have a proper environment for learning,” said Jack M. Sleeth, Jr.

But tea party members adamantly disagreed.

“We think there’s been a challenge to first amendment rights here, where the freedom of expression is being curtailed,” said Bob Lenson.

Though they weren’t a party in the case, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a brief with the court.

“We took the position that yes, the banners Mr. Johnson hung in his classroom were a problem because taken in totality the banners were really endorsing religion or gave the appearance they were endorsing religion,” said ACLU Legal Director David Blair-Loy.  “At the same time we also thought the district had a problem because it was allowing another teacher to keep Tibetan Prayer flags permanently posted in the classroom.”

He said it appears to show preferential treatment of some religious symbols over others.  The court disagreed.  The flags can stay.

“All of the other teachers at PUSD have up things that represent their personalities.  The prayer flags, a gay pride poster, Malcolm X, rock stars, athletes.  And PUSD is not asking them to take any of those down,” said Howard.

Thomas More Law Center, the conservative Christian law center that filed the lawsuit on behalf of Johnson, has now filed a petition requesting a full appellate court review of the decision.


Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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