The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a case thatstemmed from public school officials’ refusal to display a kindergartenstudent’s artwork containing a picture of Jesus.
In decliningto hear Baldwinsville School District v.Peck, the Court let stand a lower court decision that the Baldwinsvilleofficials who censored the student’sposter may have violated the student’s First Amendmentrights.
In 1999, Antonio Peck drew the poster in response to a classassignment asking students to make posters about the environment. Peck respondedby including a depiction of Jesus in his poster, which was displayed for half aday on the cafeteria wall along with 80 other student posters.
According to a decision by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals,Pecks teacher requested the picture of Jesus to be folded under to avoid givingparents the perception that religion was taught as part of the environmentalunit in her class.
The child’s parents sued the Baldwinsville,N.Y. school district with the help of the Liberty Counsel, a religious freedomorganization.
The federal district court in Syracuse dismissed thesuit, but the 2nd Circuit ruled 3-0 in October 2005 in favor of Peck, holdingthat a public school may not censor a student’s viewpoint on a permissiblesubject when it is in response to a school assignment.
The appealscourt sent the case back to the district court for further examination ofwhether there was discrimination and, if so, whether it might bejustified.
The school district asked the Supreme Court to considerthe case.
The Supreme Court dealt with high school free speech in1988 when the Court ruled in Hazelwood SchoolDistrict v. Kuhlmeier that a high school principal’s censorship ofa student newspaper that contained articles about sex and divorce was justified.The paper was part of the curriculum and the school’s control over itscontent was ”reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns,”according to the decision.
In the Baldwinsville case, the 2nd U.S.Circuit Court of Appeals said the case came ”within the core of Hazelwood‘s framework,” butit said that the Hazelwood decisiondoes not give administrators the ability to single out particular viewpoints forcensorship, even if the censorship is ”reasonably related to legitimatepedagogical concerns.”
The Supreme Court’s decision toallow the 2nd Circuit decision to stand strengthens First Amendment rights forpeople of all ages, said Liberty Counsel President Mathew D. Staver in astatement.
”It’s about time that school officials learna simple lesson — private religious speech when expressed on publicproperty is constitutionally protected,” hesaid.