Monday, January 29, 2007

Trial Starts Over Censorship Of Kindergartner's Art Poster Containing Picture of Jesus

In Syracuse, NY A trial concerning the censorship of Jesus starts today in the federal case of Peck v. Baldwinsville School District. The case involves a school district's censorship of a kindergartner's art poster containing a picture of Jesus. Liberty Counsel represent the parents of Antonio Peck, the student whose poster was censored.
In 1999, Antonio's kindergarten teacher instructed her class to draw a poster about how to save the environment. Antonio's first poster contained several religious figures and the statement: "The only way to save the world." Antonio was expressing his belief that God was the only way to save the environment. This poster was rejected. Antonio's second poster included cutout figures of children holding hands around the world, people recycling trash, and children picking up garbage. On the left side of the poster was a picture of Jesus with one knee to the ground and two hands stretched toward the sky. This poster was displayed in the cafeteria along with 80 other student posters, but unlike the other posters, school officials folded Antonio's poster in half so that the figure of Jesus could not be seen. The poster was folded to censor any religious reference in the poster and made the poster look silly, as it was only a fraction of the size of the other posters and also cut off part of Antonio's name. School officials admitted that posters with other secular figures which were not discussed in class would be allowed but not Jesus, because such a figure is religious. When school officials refused to remedy the matter or adopt a policy to prevent future censorship, Liberty Counsel filed suit.
Although the lower court ruled that the school had the right to censor the poster because of "church and state" concerns, a unanimous appeals court reversed that decision, ruled that a public school cannot engage in viewpoint discrimination, and sent the case back to the district court for a trial. The trial court again ruled in favor of the district, and, again, a unanimous court of appeals reversed, stating that religious viewpoint discrimination is not permissible even in class assignments. The case is now back for the final trial.. Liberty Counsel will present evidence this week that Antonio's poster was censored because it contained the drawing of Jesus. School officials have already admitted in sworn statements that secular images would not have been censored, even if the images did not relate to the art assignment.
The school district sent a terrible message to Antonio and the other students that faith is not welcome. Schools officials may not discriminate against religious viewpoints of students who address permissible subjects in response to class assignments. Antonio is an example of the maxim that one person, no matter how young, can accomplish great things when they stand for a principled cause.