Federal Court Says School District Cannot Censor Religious Message
by Jim Brown
August 4, 2004
(AgapePress) - A federal judge has ruled that an Arizona school district violated the free speech and equal protection rights of the parents of two students by censoring their religious message in a school fundraiser.
The judge said the Paradise Valley Unified School District in Phoenix acted unconstitutionally when it barred Paul and Ann Siedman from including the word "God" in publicly posted messages to their children in the district's "Tiles for Smiles" program. The fundraiser allowed members of the community to purchase a tile that would then be inscribed and displayed on the interior walls of the school.
The Seidmans had wanted to inscribe the words "God bless. We love you, Mom & Dad" on tiles at Pinnacle Peak Elementary School, but were told such messages would violate the supposed separation of Church and State. Attorney Peter Gentala with the Center for Arizona Policy litigated the Seidmans' case with assistance from the Alliance Defense Fund. He says the district is engaging in viewpoint discrimination.
"And the interesting thing about the school's decision is that, at the same time, they allowed a tile that said 'In God We Trust,'" Gentala says. "So what we have here is a government body, a school district, that's picking and choosing what kinds of speech it wants to see when it has invited that speech."
The attorney explains that by granting the Siedmans' motion for summary judgment, the judge sent the district a clear message.
"What this case stands for is the proposition that public school are not religion-free zones," Gentala says, adding that it is inappropriate to single out religion for removal from public schools. "It's inappropriate because public schools are taxpayer-funded," he says, "and if anything, they should be an expression of the community and it diversity, and not a tool of censorship."
Gentala also commends the Seidmans for taking a stand. "[They] did a courageous thing by refusing to have their religious message turned away," he says.
Mrs. Seidman told the Center for Arizona Policy they filed the lawsuit to demonstrate to their children that their faith is important. "We wanted them to know that their faith doesn't have to stay at home when they go to school," she said.
The Paradise Valley Unified School District has not indicated whether it will appeal the ruling.