First Amendment Violation: Separation Of Church And State


In a recent Wall Street Journal article written by Jacob Gershman entitled: For Next Big Religion Case, High Court Goes to Greece, is reported that the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to rule on a case whether an upstate New York town violated the Constitution by opening its public meetings with a Christian prayer.

The case centers on the Town of Greece, near Rochester, which had routinely invited Christian clergy to deliver prayers, most of which contained references to “Jesus Christ,” “Jesus,” “Your Son,” or the “Holy Spirit.”

Town residents claim the practice violated the separation of church and state of the First Amendment.

Constitutional scholar Carl Tobias, of the University of Richmond School of Law, said “It’s a very delicate and difficult issue”.

The outcome could have wider implications beyond legislative invocations, Mr. Tobias said. It could have an impact on everything from school prayer to what may be recited at funerals for state troopers.

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The T-Shirt Lawsuit

According to The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog today, a federal judge in Ohio ordered a school to pay a student $20,000 in damages and legal fees after the student wore a t-shirt to school with the message “Jesus is not a Homophobe” written on it.  The student was also threatened with further disciplinary action if he tried wearing the t-shirt a third time to school.

The article entitled: School Pays 20K in ‘Jesus Is Not a Homophobe’ T-Shirt Lawsuit, can be read in its entirety on the Wall Street Journal Law Blog.

The first time the student wore the t shirt was in April, 2011 during the school’s “Day of Silence”, which was an event to raise awareness of bullying gay students.  It was purportedly his way of showing his own pride, and raising awareness, but the school administrators prevented him from wearing the shirt.

The judge felt that the student’s First Amendment rights had been violated by the school’s policy.  This could lead to more public schools changing their policies with regard to appropriate school dress, and could possibly even move some of them to institute a school uniform to prevent further lawsuits based on this type of argument.