RICHMOND, Va. — School officials did not violate a Virginia teacher's free-speech rights when they removed Christian-themed postings from his classroom, a federal appeals court ruled yesterday.
The postings included a flier publicizing the National Day of Prayer, a depiction of George Washington praying at Valley Forge, and articles about President George W. Bush's religious faith and former Attorney General John Ashcroft's prayer meetings with his employees.
They were removed from William Lee's Spanish classroom at Tabb High School at the start of the 2004-05 school year after a parent complained.
Lee claimed his classroom bulletin boards were a limited public forum open for teachers' private expression and speech. But a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a ruling that York County school officials had discretion to remove the items.
"The items do not constitute speech on a matter of public concern and are not protected by the First Amendment," Judge Robert King wrote in Lee v. York County School Division.
Robert W. McFarland, attorney for the school officials, said he was pleased that the court backed his clients' authority over the classroom postings.
"A ruling to the contrary would mean that potentially anything and everything could be deemed a First Amendment matter that the school couldn't regulate," he said.
John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, which often takes on religious-freedom cases, said it would petition the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the case.
Lee's attorney, Gary A. Bryant, did not return a phone call seeking comment in time for this article.