- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2006

RICHMOND — A federal judge has ruled that a southeastern Virginia school district didn’t violate a teacher’s free-speech rights by removing Christian-themed postings from his classroom walls.

U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith rejected arguments that York County school officials deprived William Lee of his First Amendment rights when they ordered the removal of postings that included articles about President Bush’s religious faith and John Ashcroft’s prayer meetings with his staffers when he was attorney general.

“This case is not about what free-speech rights Lee has as an individual expressing himself on private property,” Judge Smith wrote in her opinion filed last week. “Rather, this case is a question about what free-speech rights Lee has as a public school teacher-employee.”

The postings were removed from Mr. Lee’s Spanish classroom at Tabb High School at the start of the 2004-05 school year after a parent complained.

When asked in a deposition why he featured Mr. Bush and Mr. Ashcroft, Mr. Lee responded: “I like them. I respect and admire them. I feel that they’re good guys.”

Other materials taken down included a flier publicizing the National Day of Prayer and a depiction of George Washington praying at Valley Forge.

Mr. Lee, who also advises Tabb’s Christian-students group, filed suit against the school system in August, seeking an order to rehang the postings and leave them up.

He argued that his bulletin boards were a limited public forum open for teachers’ private expression and speech.

But Judge Smith, citing federal appeals court rulings, decided that Mr. Lee’s postings were part of his instructional tools and school curriculum, thus subject to school review and not protected by the First Amendment.

The opinion also noted Principal Crispin Zanca’s statement that the school has discretion to remove a wide range of postings “regardless of whatever expression or demonstration of personal interest they may possess.”

“Moreover, news articles and current event articles are posted, but usually only if they pertain to the teacher’s subject matter, such as in a government or history classroom,” Judge Smith wrote. “Consequently, Tabb simply has not given its teachers freedom to express themselves in their classroom in any way they please.”

A spokeswoman for the Rutherford Institute, the Christian rights group that argued on behalf of Mr. Lee, said it would discuss the case after staff members reviewed the judge’s ruling.

Postings that Mr. Zanca allowed to remain up in Mr. Lee’s classroom included materials about the religious practices of Inca and Mayan civilizations, a photo of Boy Scouts praying in memory of those killed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and an article and photo of an aircraft carrier flight technician wearing a helmet with “Pray for America” written on it.

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