NASHVILLE, Tenn. Less than a year after a federal judge ruled the Wilson County school district illegally promoted religion, the same judge has ruled it cannot ban religious phrases from student posters.
The ruling comes in time for students at Lakeview Elementary School to promote their prayer event for the National Day of Prayer on today.
The Alliance Defense Fund filed a lawsuit on behalf of five families in March in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, claiming the school board censored posters for a student-led prayer event in September.
The posters included the phrases “In God We Trust” and “God Bless the U.S.A.” They also had disclaimers saying the event called “See You at the Pole” was not sponsored by the school, The Tennessean reports.
School officials required that all religious language on the posters be covered over.
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Echols issued a preliminary injunction on May 1, barring the school district from censoring religious speech on posters. Any future policy must be “reasonable, viewpoint-neutral, and in accordance with federal law,” he ruled.
“We are elated with the judge’s ruling,” said Nate Kellum, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund.
Wilson County Schools Director James Davis said the district would abide by the ruling.
In 2006, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee sued the Wilson County school board for inappropriately promoting religion when a group known as the Praying Parents met on campus and handed out notes telling students they’d been prayed for.
Some school officials attended Praying Parents events and had worn “I prayed” stickers around the school.
Echols ruled in May 2008 that the school administration agreed with the Praying Parents’ purpose of promoting Christianity in the school, “became excessively entangled with the group’s religious activities and abandoned the school’s constitutional obligation to maintain strict neutrality towards religion.”
He ordered the board to pay $171,000 for the plaintiffs’ legal fees in that case.
The five families in the most recent lawsuit have ties to the Praying Parents.