Last week, I wrote on these pages about two boys in Apple Valley, California, whose teachers, Mrs. Stormy DeHaro and Mrs. Julie Manker, confiscated the Bible coins placed in the children’s St. Valentine’s Day cards for their classmates. Following an investigation, the school district properly found that the teachers violated the boys’ First Amendment constitutional rights to freedom of speech and expression, and freedom of religion. In the boys’ case, the school district did the right thing and acknowledged that the boys’ constitutional rights were violated, and that they will be able to distribute their Bible coins in the future.
In a similar case, J.A., a first grade student, was prohibited from distributing St. Valentine’s Day cards to his classmates because the cards contained a note that mentioned God, and included the Bible verse from the Gospel of St. John, 3:16, after a sentence about the history of St. Valentine. I think that many of my readers will recognize that verse from the Bible. J.A.’s parents helped him assemble the cards that included a note that stated the disconcerting and radical observation, “Happy Valentine’s Day! 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 have eternal life.’ John 3:16.”
Of course, when the dangerous first grade student arrived with his cards at Floyd R. Shafer Elementary School in Nazareth, Pennsylvania (Really? Nazareth? Truly, a Prophet is not honored in his hometown!), he was stopped. His teacher noticed the faith-based notes and brought them to the attention of the school’s principal, William Mudlock. Dr. Mudlock ordered them removed immediately because of their religious nature and because they contained a Bible verse. At a meeting with J.A.’s parents, Dr. Mudlock told them that the Bible verse could be “offensive” to others. Moreover, Dr. Mudlock explained that the child’s note sought to “establish the supremacy” of his Christian faith over others, as prohibited by school district policy. Mudlock appealed to authority citing NASD Policy 220 on “Unprotected Student Expression,” which states that the school officials can prohibit student expression that seeks “to establish the supremacy of a particular religious denomination, sect or point of view.” So, stupid principal Mudlock believes that NASD Policy 220 trumps the U.S. Constitution.
Unlike the much smarter administrators in Apple Valley, these bullies wanted to go to war over the St. Valentine’s Day cards. As a result, the school district refused to change their policy, and a lawsuit was filed. The complaint filed in J.A. v. Nazareth Area School District, is available here. Interestingly, the same U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania struck down an identically worded policy at another Pennsylvania school district in 2008, saying that such policies “restrict what effectively amounts to all religious speech, which is clearly not permissible under the First Amendment.” I am only sorry that the learned Dr. Mudlock and the boy’s teacher were not personally sued. Anyway, perhaps the school district will reduce their salary to pay for the defense of this lawsuit.
Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Matt Sharp, noted:
Public schools ought to encourage, not suppress, the free exchange of ideas, including those communicated through Valentine’s Day cards. A Bible verse and a reference to God does not make such a card unconstitutional. Religious expression is just as protected by the First Amendment as other messages that students communicate.
It is abundantly clear that the school district’s censorship of a Christian message is exactly the type of hostility to religion forbidden by the First Amendment. Please pray for little J.A. and for his family during these difficult days. And in this post-Mozilla world, my readers in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, might want to fire William Mudlock. It is the only way to teach the real bullies at J.A.’s elementary school.