ADF to Ariz. school district: Teachers free to have personal Bible at desk

ADF letter affirms First Amendment freedoms
Friday, October 03, 2014

Attorney sound bites:  Rory Gray  |  Jeremy Tedesco

PEORIA, Ariz. – Alliance Defending Freedom has delivered a letter to Peoria Unified School District that urges it to respect the constitutionally protected freedom of school employees to have personal Bibles in their private desk areas. Principals at some of the district’s schools instructed its teachers to remove any Bibles and Scripture references from their desks after the district received an unrelated letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

“Teachers and other public school employees do not leave their constitutionally protected freedoms at the schoolhouse gate,” said ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Rory Gray. “This overreaction on the part of some school officials has now itself become a First Amendment violation. As our letter explains, there’s no legitimate basis for public schools to prohibit employees from having Bibles at their desks for their own personal use.”

“Placing religious literature, references, and effects in one’s private desk area is a ‘clearly personal’ activity that is protected by the First Amendment,” the ADF letter states. “A teacher’s desk area is dedicated solely to his or her personal use, and students know full well to give this private workspace a wide berth. Indeed, given that teachers’ personal religious items are mingled with photographs of their families, handmade artwork from their children, teaching awards, and other belongings that are clearly teachers’ private expression, a reasonable person would not view any of these personal effects as ‘endorsed’ by the school.”

“But teachers’ right to engage in private religious expression is not limited to the four corners of their desks,” the letter continues. “‘Clearly personal’ speech activities include other things, such as the wearing of unobtrusive jewelry that communicates teachers’ religious faith and engaging in community-sponsored activities outside of the school day.”

“Some activist groups confuse public schools with inaccurate information about the First Amendment,” added ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “We are asking PUSD to honor the constitutionally protected freedoms of its employees by issuing a written directive to them that affirms those freedoms – specifically, their freedom to keep unobtrusive religious items in the private work areas around their desks.”

  • Pronunciation guide: Tedesco (Tuh-DESS’-koh)

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.

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