Monday, November 14, 2016

School can restrict religious postings in the classroom

This teacher posted religious postings in her classroom. The school district told her to remove the postings. The plaintiff sues the district under the First Amendment. She loses in the district court, and the Court of Appeals affirms the dismissal.

The case is Silver v. Cheektowaga Central School District, a summary order decided on November 8. Teachers have speech rights under the Constitution, but those rights are limited. You can say whatever you want on the streets, but schools have authority to control speech within the four walls of the classroom. That control includes certain political speech, but it also covers religious speech. This where two clauses in the First Amendment intersect. The free speech clauses says you can say whatever you want. The Establishment Clause says the government cannot promote religion. In the public school context, districts have authority to regulate what the students hear.

As the Court of Appeals (Katzmann, Wesley and Carney) notes, "schools may direct teachers to refrain from expression of religious viewpoints in the classroom and like settings," and "schools have a constitutional duty to make certain that subsidized teachers do not inculcate religion." The Court further notes that "when government endeavors to police itself and its employees in an effort to avoid transgressing Establishment Clause limits, it must be accorded some leeway."

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