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Florida Public School Teacher Faces Lawsuit Over Banning Cross Necklaces

June 16th, 2017

A public school district in Florida faces a lawsuit after a teacher banned students from wearing cross necklaces in her classroom and began advocating for LGBTQ rights. This case highlights some interesting issues about the interplay between religious rights and public education.

The Activity of the Riverview High School Teacher

At the beginning of the most recent school semester, the teacher placed LGBTQ rainbow stickers on students’ classroom folders without their consent. One student removed the LGBTQ sticker from her folder and found that the teacher started treating him in a more adversarial manner. Reports have also revealed that the teacher decorated her desk with LGBTQ buttons and used teaching material from the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network. Three students have also claimed that the teacher has prevented them from wearing Christian cross necklaces in the classroom on the basis that these medallions constitute alleged gang symbols. The teacher also allegedly plans to engage in LGBTQ activism during the “Day of Silence” which is national awareness day designed to prevent LGBTQ bullying and harassment in schools.

The Purpose of the Lawsuit

The lawsuit against the teacher was filed by the Liberty Counsel group in an effort to make the school district perform several actions. Liberty counsel is a non-profit organization that specializes in constitutional law and provides pro bono legal representation in matters concerning First Amendment advocacy. Liberty counsel claims that the teacher is clearly violating the school’s policy, which states that teachers may not dedicate work time to outside interests, may not use school time for private enterprises, may not campaign on school property on behalf of any political issue, and must refrain from expressions that would disrupt the operation of the school. The complaint also states that the teacher is committing serious constitutional violations.

Expressive conduct, the complaint alleges, like wearing jewelry may not be prohibited or subject to discriminatory treatment. While the teacher’s decisions to ban crosses constitute hostility towards those who choose to wear these crosses, neutrality should be practiced in this type of a classroom setting. The claim states that the United States Supreme Court has repeatedly made it clear that private religious speech and expression are fully protected under the Free Speech Clause as secular private expression. The requested actions include keeping the teacher from promoting LGBTQ activism during classroom time, requiring the teacher to remove pro-LGBTQ material from her classroom, prohibiting the teacher from interfering with the religious expressions of students, and replacing the teacher as the school’s Gay, Straight Alliance sponsor. Liberty Counsel has threatened to file a federal civil rights lawsuit if the school does not satisfy these requested actions.

The Goal of the Universal Life Church

The interplay between LGBTQ rights, the First Amendment, and religious expression in the classroom is a constantly evolving issue. The Universal Life Church’s blog aims to document the various changes to these laws. By staying updated about these issues, readers can follow the most recent influential cases that are shaping their role in the United States.

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