Justus Abramo was a first grade student in the Nazareth Area School District, and Valentine’s Day was right around the corner. Being a Christian family, Justus, his siblings, and parents began discussing the origin of Valentine’s Day. They learned that St. Valentine was a priest in Ancient Rome who was censored, persecuted, and martyred for sharing his Christian faith.
Inspired by this saint, Justus and his siblings decided to include a note with their Valentine’s Day cards to their classmates about the origin of the day. The note said:
“St. Valentine was imprisoned and martyred for presiding over marriages and for spreading the news of God’s love. In honor of St. Valentine’s Day, I want you to know that God loves You!!!
‘…God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.’ John 3:16”
With great care and pride, Justus customized a note for each of his classmates and brought them to school on Valentine’s Day. Because some students forgot to bring cards, the teacher delayed the celebration by one day and collected the entire class’s cards. While doing so, the teacher noticed the faith-based message on Justus’ cards and reported them to the school’s principal who ordered the notes be removed due to the religious message.
On a phone call with the principal, Justus’ mother Ellen stated that the school was violating her son’s rights to free speech and freedom of religion. But, the principal would not back down.
The next day when Justus arrived at school and the time came for the class to distribute their cards, Justus noticed that his notes were missing from his cards—they were removed by school district officials. Justus’ teacher pulled him into the hall to explain that because his notes contained a Bible verse they had to be removed and could not be passed out with his Valentine’s Day cards.
No other student had his or her cards censored.
When Justus arrived home, he explained to his parents what happened. The school official’s actions put Justus in fear of expressing his faith at school—so much so that he was afraid to pray over his meals out of concern that he would get in trouble. Both Ellen and Don, Justus’ father, took action by calling the principal, emailing the superintendent, and requesting an immediate remedy to the situation. They secured a meeting with school officials and were told that the district had a policy prohibiting religious material of any kind to be distributed at school. Officials told them that the notes sought to “establish the supremacy” of Justus’ faith over others and that the Constitution prohibits a person from imposing their religious beliefs on someone else.
After this meeting, the family contacted Alliance Defending Freedom who filed a lawsuit against the school district on behalf of Justus and his parents.
In the end the school district reached a settlement with the family and revised their policy to recognize the First Amendment rights of their students. Thanks to the courageous faith of this first grader, the school district now allows students to share religious points of view in school.