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Sunday, October 23, 2005

I first saw this story when it happened five or six years ago. It was so unbelievable that I'd clipped the story for discussion when I cover freedom of religion in my classes. A five-year old boy had drawn a picture of Jesus for an assignment in Kindergarten to draw a poster about how to help the environment. He believed that Jesus would have the solution on how to help the environment.
School officials however, felt otherwise. The rejected a first version of the poster and folded Antonio’s second attempt in half, in order to obscure the image of a kneeling Jesus they thought to be too religious in nature.
Imagine the mindset in this school that thought that a Kindergartner's picture of Jesus would be offensive and unconstitutional. Tha family sued and two courts found in favor of the school. But, now the Second Court of Appeals has found in favor of the boy and against the school. As his lawyer said,
“To allow a kindergarten poster to be displayed for a few hours on a cafeteria wall, along with 80 other student posters, is far from an establishment of religion. To censor the poster solely because some might perceive a portion of it to be religious is an egregious violation of the Constitution,"
Apparently, there is disagreement at the appellate level whether discrimination against religion in a school setting is constitutional so this case might end up in the Supreme Court. I hope so. I'm no lawyer, but it seems clear to me that, when the poster is done by the student, there is no question of an establishment of religion. The school is not endorsing religion when one student chooses a religious message for a school assignment. This seems to be more of a free exercise question than an establishment question. I know that the courts defer to school administrators as much as possible, but if schools can't forbid students from wearing black armbands in Tinker v. Des Moines, I don't see why they should be allowed to single out a small child as the one who didn't get his poster hung on the wall. If children don't give up their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse gate, a five-year old should be able to put Jesus on his environment poster.

And don't you bet that the same school probably has all sorts of assignments where kids have to do activities relating to Greek or Egyptian gods or when they study Buddhism or Hinduism? I bet they would have no problem with a child making a poster for one of those topics. I've seen artwork about such topics many times when I've visted schools. If it's a religion that no one in the school ascribes to, I would hazard a guess that no one would worry about constitutional questions in hanging those posters.

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