High school student sues over ban on religious imagery in artwork

WISCONSIN — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed afederal lawsuit Friday on behalf of a Tomah High School student — referredto as A.P. — who was given an F and two detentions for including a Biblereference in his artwork.

According to the complaint, the student’s art teacher, Julie Millin,told A.P. to remove the words “JOHN 3:16. A sign of love” because ofcomments from other students. She later showed A.P. a document students arerequired to sign at the beginning of the semester, which prohibits them fromincluding “blood, violence, sexual connotations, [or] religiousbeliefs” in their artwork.

“Christian students shouldn’t be penalized for expressing theirbeliefs,” attorney David Cortman said in an ADF press release. “Itis unconstitutional for the school to punish students simply because they chooseto exercise their First Amendment rights.”

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District ofWisconsin, also says school officials violated the Equal Protection Clause ofthe 14th Amendment by not approving A.P.’s drawing while allowing otherstudent artwork that includes Hindu, Greek, Buddhist and demonic depictions.

Greg Gaarder, business manager for the Tomah Area School District, said theschool has been in contact with its legal counsel but has yet to receiveanything official regarding a lawsuit.

“At this point in time there really isn’t anything to commenton,” Gaarder said.

In addition to asking the court to restrain district officials fromviolating A.P.’s First Amendment rights, the complaint asks the court todecide the constitutionality of the district’s religious expressionpolicy, give A.P. $1 in nominal damages and order the district to remove allreferences in the student’s record to the discipline related to theincident.

Neither Cortman nor his co-counsel returned SPLC’s call by Tuesdayafternoon.