A science teacher at a public high school in a Buffalo, N.Y. suburb has filed a lawsuit alleging that school district officials threatened to fire her unless she removed several objects referencing religion from her classroom.
Joelle Silver, who teaches biology and anatomy, took down the offending material, which included posters and notes containing religious messages as well as a “prayer request” box for the school’s Bible Study Club.
The devoutly Christian 29-year-old teacher is now seeking vindication, though. She has also sued the Cheektowaga Central School District in federal court, alleging violations of her rights under the First Amendment and unfair treatment because of her religious beliefs, The Buffalo News reports.
The American Freedom Law Center, which bills itself as a Judeo-Christian public interest law firm, represents Silver. Attorney Robert J. Muise, an attorney for the nonprofit organization, claims that district officials acted unconstitutionally when they compelled Silver to purge her classroom of religious items.
Muise called the proceedings against his client “one of the most egregious examples of religious hostility I have witnessed in a public school,” according to the Buffalo News.
Silver reportedly displayed quite a bit of religious material in her classroom.
One of the notes school board officials ordered Silver to remove consisted of a quote from President Ronald Reagan, asserting “without God democracy will not and cannot endure” and “If ever we forget that we are One nation Under God, then we will be a Nation gone under.”
District officials also demanded that Silver hide away — in a private folder — the collection of small personal sticky notes containing inspirational Bible verses she had kept on her desk.
One of several posters at issue was emblazoned with an American flag, some school books and a quote from Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians: “Be on guard. Stand true to what you believe. Be courageous. Be strong. And everything you do must be done in love.”
“Is that proselytizing?” queried Muise, the Buffalo News reports.
According to Rebecca Markert, a staff attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, it definitely is.
“Public employees, including teachers, have to act neutrally with regard to religion. They cannot push any religion,” Markert charged.
“There’s a lot of case law that supports the district’s decision,” she added. “I don’t think the school district is forcing her not to be a Christian.”
A student at the school who was uncomfortable with the religious material initially notified the Freedom From Religion Foundation about it. The Madison, Wisconsin-based group then demanded that the school district force Silver to eradicate all religious references from her classroom, Fox News reports.
School district Superintendent Dennis Kane told the Buffalo News that the high school brouhaha had put school officials in a tough legal spot.
“In this case, you have two interest groups that are diametrically opposed to each other and you have to make certain decisions,” Kane said, according to Fox News. “And if one side doesn’t sue you, the other side probably will.”
The school district ultimately sided with the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Officials sent an eight-page letter to the teacher. According to Fox, the letter warned Silver: “your rights to free speech and expression are not as broad as if your were simply a private citizen.”
The lawsuit alleges that teachers in the Cheektowaga Central School District are permitted to display material in their classrooms that reflects their personalities and values, including political and social values. As such, the Buffalo News notes, Silver maintains that she has been wronged because the Christian faith and the Bible are paramount among her values.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation regularly issues missives to public schools when it discovers something religious possibly afoot.
In September, the group sued a Pennsylvania school district after it refused to dislodge a monument of the Ten Commandments at a junior high school, the Buffalo News notes.
This month, as The Daily Caller reported, the watchdog organization threatened to sue a rural Ohio school district because, it claimed, the display of a portrait of Jesus Christ on a middle school’s hall of honor is unconstitutional.