VA School District Discriminates Against Christian Viewpoint

ASHBURN, VA – Liberty Counsel sent a demand letter to the superintendent of Loudoun County Public Schools in Virginia on behalf of a high school teacher who was directed to remove her non-school-sponsored, private expression of a Bible verse from her email signature block, while the school district allows other employees to use other quotes or statements. Liberty Counsel is requesting that the school district permit the teacher to restore the Bible verse to her email signature block.
The directive from the school district to the teacher to remove an expression of her personal faith from her email signature block, based solely on its perceived religious nature, constitutes religious discrimination in violation of the First Amendment and school district policy, which prohibits religious discrimination based on religious viewpoint.
This teacher seeks to inspire her students to excellence and the foundation for teaching is her personal faith in Jesus Christ. Because her faith is such a part of who she is, and inspires her life and work, she has included the Bible verse John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life”), as part of her email signature block since she was hired at the school. After the teacher was directed to remove that verse, she proposed an alternative verse, Proverbs 22:6 (“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it”). This was also rejected by the school district for the same reason: it was a Bible verse.

On the other hand, the school district permits teachers to personalize their signature blocks with quotations, pictures, phrases, or pronouns that are intended to express the teachers’ personal views on a variety of subjects, and that are attributable to the teachers, and not to the school district. For example, one teacher uses a quote by Cesar Chavez (“Real education should consist of drawing the goodness and the best out of our students”) and another has a quote by Frederick Douglass (“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men”). Other teachers also include simple motivational quotes such as “Have courage and be kind,” and others include small pictures under their signatures with an encouraging or inspiring message.

Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) does not have a written policy governing email signature blocks and incorrectly claimed that including the Bible verse is prohibited by the Establishment Clause. In addition, Acting Superintendent Dr. Daniel Smith, Ed.D. claims that LCPS School Board Policy 7566 prohibits the teacher from using the Bible verse in her email signature. However, in reality, the policy only forbids obscene or vulgar language and conduct prohibited by law.

Dr. Smith responded to Liberty Counsel’s letter by stating, “Simply put, the general inclusion of religious quotes in communications LCPS employees send while in their public capacities is not private expression and runs afoul of the Establishment Clause, and as such, bars LCPS, as a local governmental entity, from taking sides in religious disputes or favoring or disfavoring anyone based on religion or belief, or lack thereof. To be clear, LCPS’s determination is not based on any particular religious viewpoint, and LCPS would take a consistent approach as it has here with respect to any religious expression incorporated in an LCPS employee’s email signature block of which it becomes aware.”

However, the First Amendment requires that the school district may not discriminate against the teacher’s private religious expression. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court and various federal courts have confirmed that organizations and individuals holding a religious viewpoint may not be subject to discrimination or censorship on the basis of that viewpoint. For example, in Liberty Counsel’s case, Shurtleff v. City of Boston, the High Court unanimously ruled that the city of Boston violated the Constitution by censoring a private flag in a public forum open to “all applicants” merely because the application referred to it as a “Christian flag.” The High Court unanimously rejected Boston’s use of the “Lemon Test” to censor Christian viewpoints. Then in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, the High Court ruled in favor of the high school football coach and also finally buried the court-made “Lemon Test” citing Liberty Counsel’s 9-0 decision handed down in Shurtleff v. City of Boston involving the Christian flag.

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “The decisions from the Supreme Court involving the Christian flag and Coach Kennedy send a clear message that the ‘Lemon Test’ has finally been buried and government must not discriminate based on religious viewpoint. Loudoun County Public Schools cannot discriminate against a teacher who wants to use a Bible verse in her signature when other teachers are including nonreligious quotes.”

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The above was a news release from Liberty Counsel