Thursday, May 03, 2007

Fourth Circuit denies teacher's First Amendment claim regarding religious items removed from classroom

In LEE v. YORK COUNTY SCHOOL DIVISION, a school teacher brought suit alleging that his First Amendment rights were violated when the School Board removed materials he had posted on the bulletin boards in his classroom. The items included the following: (1) a 2001 National Day of Prayer poster, featuring George Washington kneeling in prayer; (2) a May 15, 2004, Daily Press news article entitled "The God Gap," outlining religious and philosophical differences between President Bush and his challenger John Kerry; (3) an October 14, 2002, USA Today news article entitled "White House Staffers Gather for Bible Study,"describing how then Attorney General Ashcroft led staffers in voluntary Bible study sessions; (4) a November 1, 2001, Daily Press news article, detailing the missionary activities of a former Virginia high school student. The district court rejected Lee’s claim, concluding that his postings were curricular in nature and thus did not constitute speech on a matter of public concern.

The Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding that

Because the Removed Items constitute school-sponsored speech bearing the imprimatur of the school, and they were designed to impart particular knowledge to the students at Tabb High, the Items are curricular in nature. As such, the dispute over Lee’s postings of the Removed Items is nothing more than an ordinary employment dispute. See Boring, 136 F.3d at 369 (concluding that disagreements over curricular speech constitute ordinary employment disputes). The Items do not constitute speech on a matter of public concern and are not protected by the First Amendment.

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