Johnson v. Poway Unified School District

AU's Role: 
AU's Involvement Began: 
July 2010
Status: 

A California public high-school teacher displayed large banners in his classroom with the following text: "IN GOD WE TRUST," "ONE NATION UNDER GOD," "GOD BLESS AMERICA," "GOD SHED HIS GRACE ON THEE," and "All Men Are Created Equal They Are Endowed By Their CREATOR." After the teacher refused to provide those with greater historical context so as to avoid promoting religion, the school district instructed the teacher to remove the banners altogether. 

The teacher then filed a lawsuit, alleging that the school district violated his constitutional right to free speech by requiring him to remove the religious displays. After the trial court ruled in the teacher's favor, the school district appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. 

In July 2010, we filed an amicus brief supporting the school district. We argued that the display of banners in the classroom was not the teacher's private speech, and instead was attributable to the school district. Not only did the teacher have no right to display the banners, we observed, but the school district would have violated the Establishment Clause had it allowed the banners to remain.

In September 2011, the Ninth Circuit overturned the trial court's decision and ruled in favor of the school district. The Court of Appeals explained that while at work, the teacher speaks “not as an individual, but as a public employee,” and the school had a right to ensure that the teacher's displays did not violate the Establishment Clause.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied the teacher's petition for review, and the case has now concluded.
 
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