Appeals court rejects Columbine wall tiles

COLORADO ‘ The administrators who want to move on have prevailed over the parents who want to remember.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled June 27 that family and friends of two Columbine High School shooting victims do not have a First Amendment right to display decorative tiles bearing religious symbols as part of a beautification project.

The three-judge panel overturned the decision of U.S. District Court Judge Wiley Daniel in Fleming v. Jefferson County School District that ordered school officials to install eight religious tiles in the hallways of the school.

Daniel’s decision, which was put on hold until the panel could hear the case, had also granted a special tile-painting session to parents Donald and Diedra Fleming, whose daughter Kelly was killed in the shooting, allowing them to create a tile stating ‘4/20/99 Jesus Wept.’ That order was also overturned.

Citing the 1988 Supreme Court decision in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, the court ruled the tiles constituted ‘school-sponsored speech’ that could be limited to promote administrators’ ‘legitimate pedagogical concern’ of creating a safe environment for students.

‘In weighing the competing interests of accommodating the victims’ parents and preventing the tile project from becoming a memorial to the shooting, the district struck a reasonable balance,’ Judge David Ebel wrote.

The project was intended to assist in community healing after the April 20, 1999, shooting at the school.

Case: Fleming v. Jefferson County School Dist. R-1, 2002 WL 1380930 (10th Cir. June 27, 2002)