Poway teacher asks U.S. Supreme Court to intervene

POWAY, Calif. — A high school teacher who was ordered by campus officials to remove patriotic phrases from his classroom has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a federal appeals court decision that sided with district administrators.

The Thomas More Law Center, which is representing Bradley Johnson, filed the appeal. According to his attorneys, Johnson had been using red, white and blue banners with the phrases "In God We Trust," "One Nation Under God" and "God Bless America" for more than 20 years.

Even though Johnson taught math he was allowed to display the banners because of a 30-year-old policy in the Poway Unified School District, Poway, Calif. which allowed teachers to maintain classroom displays of non-curricular messages that reflected their personal opinions and values.

Johnson's lawyers said the policy, in effect, allowed district teachers to use their classroom walls as forum for the expression of the teacher's private opinions and viewpoints.

But in 2007, school officials ordered Johnson to remove the signs saying they promoted a "Judeo-Christian" viewpoint. The district order came even though other teachers were using non-Christian religious displays in their classrooms.

"This case is a prime example of how public schools across our nation are cleansing our classrooms of our Christian heritage while promoting atheism and other non-Christian religions under the guise of cultural diversity," said Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center.

The displays that were allowed to remain included a 40-foot string of Tibetan prayer flags with images of Buddha hung across a classroom, a poster with Hindu leader Mahatma Gandhi's "7 Social Sins"; a poster of Muslim leader Malcolm X; a poster of the Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama; and a poster containing the lyrics of John Lennon's anti-religion song "Imagine," which begins, "Imagine there's no heaven."

After filing the suit, Johnson won his case at the trial level when federal District Judge Robert T. Benitez ruled on Feb.  24, 2010 that the teacher was merely exercising his free speech rights in accordance with the district policy. But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later reversed that decision, prompting the latest appeal.

"The 9th Circuit court's rationale in allowing the Tibetan Prayer Flags and references to other religions while outlawing America's patriotic slogans that mention God is unconvincing," Thompson said. "Brad Johnson was simply exercising his free speech rights in a forum created by the school district to inform students of the religious foundations of our nation."