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Court Rules Teacher Must Remove ‘In God We Trust’ Classroom Banners


"Nobody thought there was anything wrong with them."

Bradley Johnson has been a mathematics teacher in California's Poway Unified School District for decades. And for much of that time, he has prominently displayed patriotic and faith-themed banners in his classrooms -- a move that has drawn intense criticism and 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 them:

"Nobody thought there was anything wrong with them. Administrators, superintendents, school board people who had been in my room."

After the banners came down, the veteran educator, feeling targeted over the Christian theme of the banners, filed a Free Speech lawsuit. The Los Angeles Times explains the reason for his legal challenge:

To Johnson, the banners were no more an assertion of a religious point of view than the Tibetan prayer flag, Dalai Lama poster and Malcolm X poster that other teachers had in their classrooms.

At first, Johnson was successful in his pursuits. Last year, Federal Judge Roger Benitez sided with him and ruled that his First Amendment rights had been infringed upon. But in a follow-up court ruling on Tuesday, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected this claim.

The God-focused banners, which the teacher put back up after his previous court victory, were again ordered to be taken down. In this ruling, the three-judge panel claimed that the principal and the board have the right, just as any employer does, to place limits on employees' speech. The Times continues:

The size of the banners — some 7 feet wide by 2 feet high — made them "a promotion of a particular viewpoint," Principal Dawn Kastner is quoted as saying in the court's 40-page opinion.

The Christian Science Monitor provides more information about the ruling:

The appeals court said Johnson was a government employee hired to teach math, not to “use his public position as a pulpit from which to preach his own views on the role of God in our nation’s history to the captive students in his mathematics classroom.”

In addition to removing the banners, the appeals court ordered Johnson to pay the school board's legal expenses. Johnson, though, is undeterred. He says he's willing to take the fight all the way to the Supreme Court.

(h/t The Los Angeles Times)

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