With President Barack Obama’s health care legislation dominating judicial chatter, an important free speech case went relatively unnoticed earlier this week.
Last year, California school teacher Bradley Johnson vowed to take his battle over patriotic and religious banners to the U.S. Supreme Court. Unfortunately for Johnson, the nation’s most power justices declined to hear his case (Johnson vs. Poway Unified School District), solidifying a lower court ruling against the presence of the banners he had placed in his classrooms for decades.
Back in September, we told you about Johnson, who has served as a mathematics teacher in California’s Poway Unified School District for decades. For much of that time he has prominently displayed patriotic and faith-themed posters — a move that has drawn intense criticism and eventual removal mandates from school officials.
The banners, which touted messages like “In God We Trust,“ ”God Bless America,“ and ”God Shed His Grace on Thee,” were ordered taken down by a school principal back in 2007 when Johnson transferred to a new high school. But for years, the AP calculus teacher says that nobody saw any problem with her posters.
“Nobody thought there was anything wrong with them. Administrators, superintendents, school board people who had been in my room,” he explained.
After the banners were taken down, Johnson filed a lawsuit. Initially, he was successful, but in 2011, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected his claim that the posters were appropriate in his public school classrooms. In addition to requiring that the banners be taken down, the court also said that Johnson would have to cover the school board’s legal expenses.
The San Francisco Chronicle sums up the debate between Johnson and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in the following terms:
Johnson said he had hung the same banners since 1982 and described their messages as patriotic. He accused the district of discriminating against Christians by allowing another teacher to display a poster with the lyrics to John Lennon’s song “Imagine,” which includes a line about imagining no religion.
But the appeals court found that the “Imagine” poster had no religious purpose, and said a teacher has no right to “use his public position as a pulpit.”
The Supreme Court declined to hear the case without comment.