Federal Judge: Forced Removal of Christian Materials from Classroom Was Legal


gavel II pdBUFFALO, N.Y. – A New York federal district judge ruled on Tuesday that a public school was justified in forcing a Christian science teacher to remove personal Bible-themed materials from her classroom.

As previously reported, Joelle Silver works as a high school teacher for the Cheektowaga Central School District near Buffalo. Silver, a Christian, displayed several inspirational posters and artworks in her classroom, including a number of Bible verse references and Christian materials.

One poster in Silver’s classroom included a quote from former President Ronald Reagan:

“Without God there is no virtue because there is no prompting of the conscience,” the quote said. “… Without God there is a coarsening of the society; without God democracy will not and cannot long endure … If we ever forget that we are One Nation Under God, then we will be a Nation gone under.”

Other religious materials in the classroom included a drawing of three crosses on a hill, four small posters featuring verses from Psalms, and several sticky notes with biblical citations stuck on Silver’s desk.

In 2012, representatives with the Freedom From Religion Foundation learned of Silver’s Christian materials and swiftly complained to school district officials. Soon afterward, Silver received a warning letter from the school superintendent advising her to cleanse her classroom of the Christian materials.

“I … want to caution you that your Constitutional Rights, including those you enjoy under the First Amendment, are not without their limitations,” the superintendent warned in the letter.

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“It is my conclusion that you are using your publicly funded classroom to express your personal religious beliefs to your students,” he wrote, “including but not limited to your apparent belief in the divine inspiration and authority of the Bible as the word of God.”

The superintendent ordered Silver to remove all of her religious materials or else face the termination of her job at the school.

“If you need to be able to occasionally glance at inspirational Bible verses between classes during the course of the day, I suggest that you keep such material in a discreet folder that only you will have access to,” the superintendent instructed. “You may keep such a folder in a drawer of your desk, so long as you take precautions not to share it or disclose its contents to your students or their parents or guardians.”

After receiving the threatening letter, Silver decided to challenge the school in court, alleging that the superintendent’s orders were a violation of her religious freedoms. With help from the American Freedom Law Center, Silver filed a lawsuit which argued that the Bible “guides her actions, including her actions as a public school teacher.”

“I believe that my First Amendment rights were violated last June when I was asked to do some things regarding taking some posters down and to censor my speech in the classroom,” Silver told reporters. “As a Christian and as an American I feel it’s incredibly important to fight to protect the rights that people have died to give them.”

The lawsuit also pointed out that the same school district freely allowed a social worker at the school to display a variety of “gay rights” materials both inside and outside her office, including materials from the Human Rights Campaign—a pro-homosexual, anti-Christian organization. Unlike Silver’s situation, the school district did not reprimand the social worker for displaying the materials.

“[The school district’s] restrictions have had a chilling effect on [Silver’s] personal, noncurricular speech,” the lawsuit contends. “As a result of [the] restrictions, [Silver] is unable to discuss her faith or discuss other subject matter from her Christian point of view while on School District property. Indeed, as a result of [the school’s] draconian restrictions, [Silver] must keep her faith hidden at all times.”

Two years after the Cheektowaga Central School District initially commanded Silver to remove the Christian materials from her classroom, a district judge ruled this week largely in the school district’s favor, arguing that the display of Christian materials was inappropriate. In a 42-page opinion, U.S. Magistrate Judge Leslie Foschio said the school district did “not infringe any liberties” by ordering Silver to remove her materials.

Robert Muise, co-founder of the American Freedom Law Center, said in a press release that the Tuesday court ruling is “dripping with hostility to religion.”

“To assert that the School District was justified in ordering Ms. Silver to remove small, sticky notes containing handwritten, inspirational Bible verses that she attached to the back her desk for fear that these small, personal notes would violate the Establishment Clause, as the School District argued and the magistrate judge found, is simply absurd,” Muise stated.

“Indeed, this case should remove any lingering doubts as to whether our government, which includes the judiciary, is hostile to religion,” he continued. “But I can assure you that this fight is far from over.”

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  • Cat Smith

    The judge is wrong. The Founding Fathers who wrote the Constitution, published a Bible specifically for distribution to school houses throughout the Colonies. That also stated that Our Constitution would only work for a moral and just people. The problem here is that the judges were educated by communists and they do not understand the history behind our Constitution and its intent by the Founding Fathers.

    Also, Gay Ethics or Gay “Religion” is also taught regularly in schools.

  • Servant

    Some day there WILL be a “Christian” theocracy, believe it or not. There will be no choosing to ignore God’s Truth when Jesus returns to straighten up this corrupted planet, and may the Lord have mercy on all of U.S.

    Maranatha!

    • WorldGoneCrazy

      Amen! And EVERY knee will bow, including the pagan’s.

    • David Bennett

      It doesn’t bother me that you believe that make-believe stuff, as long as you don’t bring it into the government or public schools. Separation of state and church protects religion, so don’t knock it. The judge was of course correct.

  • Jenny

    if they really want to keep religion out of the classroom then they have to stop teaching evolution which is a godless religion. It takes faith to believe something without observable evidence unlike the Christian faith that has evidence.
    Also yoga needs to be removed since that is a Hindu religion. Yoga means to yoke with Brahman.

  • Taking care of business!

    Here’s your “separation of church and state”–Jefferson’s Wall of Separation Letter

    Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802 to answer a letter from them, asking why he would not proclaim national days of fasting and thanksiving, as had been done by Washington and Adams before him. The letter contains the phrase “wall of separation between church and state,” which lead to the short-hand for the Establishment Clause that we use today: “Separation of church and state.”

    The letter was the subject of intense scrutiny by Jefferson, and he consulted a couple of New England politicians to assure that his words would not offend while still conveying his message: it was not the place of the Congress or the Executive to do anything that might be misconstrued as the establishment of religion.

    Note: The bracketed section in the second paragraph had been blocked off for deletion, though it was not actually deleted in his draft of the letter. It is included here for completeness. Reflecting upon Jefferson’s knowledge that his letter was far from a mere personal correspondence, he deleted the block, he says in the margin, to avoid offending members of his party in the eastern states.

    This letter is also presented online at Library of Congress, and reflects Jefferson’s spelling and punctuation.

    To messers Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut.

    Gentlemen

    The affectionate sentiments of esteem & approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful & zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, and in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more & more pleasing.

    Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state. [Congress thus inhibited from acts respecting religion, and the Executive authorised only to execute their acts, I have refrained from presenting even occasional performances of devotion presented indeed legally where an Executive is the legal head of a national church, but subject here, as religious exercises only to the voluntary regulations and discipline of each respective sect.] Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

    I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessing of the common Father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves and your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.

    (signed)
    Th Jefferson
    Jan.1.1802.