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Wisconsin student wins settlement in “JOHN 3:16” drawing case

Freedom of religious expression no longer banned under school grading policy
Anthony Petri's John 3:16 Drawing

MADISON, Wis. — A settlement reached between Alliance Defense Fund attorneys and the Tomah Area School District means the district will respect students’ constitutional right to religious expression in their artwork.

“Christian students shouldn’t be penalized for expressing their beliefs, so we’re pleased that this settlement will make sure that no longer happens,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel David Cortman.  “It was clearly unconstitutional for the school to enforce a policy in such a way as to bar religious expression by a Christian student while allowing other types of religious expression by other students.  No school policy can require a student to surrender his First Amendment rights.”

On March 28, ADF attorneys filed a federal lawsuit after a teacher told a student at Tomah High School to either remove or cover up a Scripture reference depicted in a piece of artwork, citing a grading policy that banned depictions of “blood, violence, sexual connotations, [or] religious beliefs.”  Students who portrayed demon-like creatures in their art, however, were not censored.

On April 15, ADF attorneys filed a motion for preliminary injunction against the district.  The school district then decided to pursue settlement of the case.

Under the terms of the settlement, Tomah Area School District officials have removed the ban on religious expression in class assignments.  The student’s artwork, which initially received a “zero,” has now been graded.  Additionally, Tomah High School has removed from school records any and all references to the disciplinary actions taken against the student.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith.  Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.

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David Cortman
David A. Cortman
Senior Counsel, Vice President of U.S. Litigation
David A. Cortman serves as senior counsel and vice president of U.S. litigation with Alliance Defending Freedom.