Goodbye yellow brick road: Calif. high school a dead end for free speech

School district responds to ADF lawsuit, cancels entire memorial brick paver program to make sure a few Bible verses aren’t used
Thursday, June 09, 2011

ADF attorney sound bite (6/9/11):  David Cortman

LOS ANGELES — A California school district has canceled a fundraising program that sold memorial brick pavers with messages of the purchaser’s choice after the Alliance Defense Fund sued district officials on behalf of two Christian women who chose Bible verses. Rather than allow the verses on a few pavers along walkways at Palm Desert High School, the Desert Sands Unified School District censored everyone participating in the program and refunded their money.

After the women purchased the brick pavers, they were told that, because of their religious content, they would not be included in the sidewalk alongside other similarly inscribed inspirational, commemorative, and tributary messages on campus.

“Christians should be allowed to express themselves on public school campuses just like everyone else,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman. “It is cowardly to shut down everyone’s participation in this program simply out of animosity toward Christian speech. There is absolutely nothing unconstitutional about a Bible verse on a brick when a school opens up a program for anyone to express a personal message. The school could simply have allowed the Bible verses, but instead, it chose to punish everyone.”

In February 2010, the PDHS Parent-Teacher Organization announced its brick paver fundraiser, which was approved by the school and school district. No limitations were given as to the content of the messages on the pavers--other than the length--and the fundraiser policy stated that the messages could be used to pay tribute, create a legacy, commemorate a special event, or give recognition to various entities.

Shortly thereafter, Lou Ann Hart and Sheryl Caronna submitted requests and contributed several hundred dollars to purchase brick pavers with Scripture verses engraved on the pavers. In August, after the bricks were made, but before they were installed on the new campus’ walkway, the women were notified that their pavers’ inclusion was denied because they quoted Bible verses.

Hundreds of other pavers had been accepted, including ones with inspirational and religious messages similar to Hart’s and Caronna’s, such as a Hindu quote from Mahatma Gandhi and the Bible quote, “Yes, it is possible,” written in Spanish. Nevertheless, school officials erroneously asserted that the Bible verses used by the women would cause an unconstitutional establishment of religion.

The case Hart v. Tomack was filed in January with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Peter Lepiscopo of San Diego, one of more than 2,000 attorneys in the ADF alliance, served as local counsel.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.