Friday, August 29, 2014

Another Controversy Over Religious Symbols and Public Schools

Two elementary schools in Midlothian, Texas are the latest focus of controversy over religious symbols on public property. As reported by today by Courthouse News Service, the plaques, featuring two crosses, read: "Dedicated in the Year of Our Lord 1997 to the Education of God's Children and to their Faithful Teachers in the Name of the Holy Christian Church." Freedom From Religion Foundation complained about the plaques two months ago. The Dallas Observer yesterday reported on what happened next:
The district, advised by its attorneys that it would lose any lawsuit regarding the plaques, covered them with duct tape and prepared for their being replaced as the new school year began. Wednesday, the district posted a notice on its website that the plaques had been uncovered, but the district was "unsure who uncovered them" and had "no plans to recover them."
Meanwhile each side is marshalling its arguments. FFRF says:
Public schools may not advance, prefer, or promote religion. The plaque on the front of Mt. Peak Elementary violates this basic constitutional prohibition by creating the appearance that the school, and by extension the district, prefer religion to nonreligion and Christianity to all other religions.
Liberty Institute responds:
Our preliminary investigation of the Midlothian plaque issue leads us to believe the school district created a limited public forum for plaques relating to the topic of the building dedication.  The plaque at issue is thus private speech and the First Amendment prohibits the government from censoring private speech simply because of its religious viewpoint.
And media headlines fan the controversy, such as this one from Christian News: "Texas School District Duct Tapes Over Plaques Glorifying God Following Atheist Complaint."