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Court Hears Third Appeal in Ten-Year Battle Over Censorship of Poster with Jesus

by Staff
October 15, 2009
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NEW YORK, ( -- Tomorrow morning a federal appeals court will hear oral argument on behalf of a former Syracuse kindergarten student whose art project was censored. Liberty Counsel represents Antonio Peck and his mother in the case of Peck v. Baldwinsville School District. Mathew Staver, Founder of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law, will argue the case before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, the court that has ruled twice in Antonio's favor.

Liberty Counsel filed this case in 1999, after Antonio was punished for including a figure of Jesus in an art project. Antonio's kindergarten teacher instructed the class to draw a poster showing their understanding of the environment. His first poster had several religious figures with the words, "The only way to save the world." Antonio was expressing his belief that God was the only way to save the environment. After this poster was rejected because of its religious content, he was forced to create a second poster.

Antonio's second poster contained cutout figures and other artistic work, including children holding hands around a globe, people recycling trash, and children picking up garbage. On the left side of the poster was a bearded man wearing a robe kneeling with one knee to the ground and hands stretched toward the sky. To Antonio, this figure was Jesus, although the figure was not identified. This poster was displayed for part of one day on a cafeteria wall, along with 80 other student posters, but unlike the other posters, Antonio's poster was folded in half to hide Jesus.

This is the third time the appeals court will consider this case. In 2000, New York federal judge Norman Mordue ruled that the school had the right to censor Antonio's poster because of "church and state" concerns. In 2001, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision 3-0 and sent the case back to the trial court. In 2004, Judge Mordue again ruled in favor of the school district but was again reversed 3-0 in 2005, when the appeals court ruled that public schools may not censor a student's viewpoint on a permissible subject matter when it is responsive to a school assignment or program. A trial was held before Judge Mordue in January 2007. In the most recent ruling in October 2008, Judge Mordue ruled once again that public school officials had the right to censor the poster. Liberty Counsel then filed the current appeal.

Mathew D. Staver commented: "Students may present religious themes in their homework. Despite the federal guidelines on religion in public schools recognizing that students may include religious themes in assignments, school officials insisted on folding Antonio Peck's poster in half to hide the figure they interpreted to be Jesus. What a terrible message to send to students that everything is permissible so long as it is not Christian. These educators need educating about the Constitution and American history."

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