ADF attorneys defend Wis. high school student facing religious discrimination
MADISON, Wis. — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed a federal lawsuit Friday against the Tomah Area School District over an unconstitutional policy that bars religious free speech. Citing a policy prohibiting depictions of “blood, violence, sexual connotations, [or] religious beliefs,” officials penalized a Christian student for his artwork depicting a Bible verse and a cross but did not penalize students who included demonic illustrations in their artwork.
“Christian students shouldn’t be penalized for expressing their beliefs. It is unconstitutional for the school to punish students simply because they choose to exercise their First Amendment rights,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel David Cortman. “Further, teachers are not permitted to censor Christian religious expression in artwork while at the same time allowing other types of religious depictions.”
A student at Tomah High School drew a landscape picture for an art class containing a road, clouds, and mountains with a cross in the background and the words “JOHN 3:16 – A sign of love” written in the sky. The teacher of the class told the student to either remove the scriptural reference or cover it up with a border.
The teacher cited a document that the student and all other students in the class had been required to sign at the beginning of the semester which prevented them from creating artwork with the prohibited depictions. After the teacher said that the student had “signed away his First Amendment rights,” the student respectfully protested by tearing the signed document in half.
“The student was correct. A public school cannot require students to sign away their constitutional right to free speech and religious expression,” Cortman explained. “Furthermore, other students created artwork in violation of this illegitimate policy, but no action was taken against them. Only our client was singled out.”
The teacher gave the student a grade of zero for the assignment. The student also received two detentions.
ADF is a legal alliance defending the right to hear and speak the Truth through strategy, training, funding, and litigation.