A teacher in the Poway Unified School District has been ordered by the U.S. Court of Appeals to remove two large banners that referred to "God" and the "Creator" from his classroom walls.
Brad Johnson, a teacher at Westview High School, had been directed by the district to remove two large banners which read “IN GOD WE TRUST,” “ONE NATION UNDER GOD,” “GOD BLESS AMERICA,” “GOD SHED HIS GRACE ON THEE” and “All men are created equal, they are endowed by their CREATOR.”
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals announced their unanimous decision on Tuesday, which overturned a previous ruling by a lower court. As a result of the court’s decision, Johnson must remove the banners.
The judges said the constitution does not permit Johnson to speak freely in his role as a teacher about his views on God.
The opinion stated, "When Bradley Johnson, a high school calculus teacher, goes to work and performs the duties he is paid to perform, he speaks not as an individual, but as a public employee, and the school district is free to ‘take legitimate and appropriate steps to ensure that its message is neither garbled nor distorted.' "
Johnson is currently the faculty sponsor of the school's student Christian Club, court documents state. Johnson has taught for the district for over 30 years.
The district must wait for the court to tell them how to enforce the order.
"We are pleased with the outcome after more than four years in the courts," PUSD Superintendent John Collins said.
No word on whether or not Johnson or his attorney will take their case to the next level.
“We acknowledge that the United States legal process has several levels of appeal, including the Supreme Court, but the district is hoping to move forward without further calls on our limited resources in defending this lawsuit brought against the district,” said PUSD Board president Penny Ranftle.
The battle over the banners started in January 2007, when the school district ordered Johnson to remove them. Johnson took them down but filed a lawsuit short afterward in federal court alleging the district had violated his constitutional rights. The lower court ruled the school district had created a limited public forum for teachers to express their views and ruled in favor of Johnson. On Tuesday, however, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s ruling.
This isn't the first time the Poway Unified School District has been in court defending themselves over freedom of speech. In 2004, the school district was sued by a student who wore a t-shirt that read, "Homosexuality is Shameful. Be ashamed. Our school embraced what God has condemned." Tyler Chase Harper wore the t-shirt the day the school held an organized "Day of Silence" to protest the silencing of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people due to harassment, bias, and abuse in schools, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
The judge ruled Harper’s t-shirt “invaded the rights of other students.” The case also went to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals which upheld the ruling in favor of the district.
Harper was a student at Poway High School.