Teachers Don’t Have Right To Preach, Says Court

A public high school teacher in Virginia does not have a First Amendment right to promote his personal religious views in the classroom, a federal appeals court has ruled.

In early May, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that William Lee’s free expression was not violated when school officials removed religious postings from his in-classroom bulletin board.

Lee, a Spanish teacher at York County’s Tabb High School, displayed religious and political items on the bulletin board in 2004. Included were an article about President George W. Bush’s religious beliefs, a National Day of Prayer poster and an article about former Attorney General John Ashcroft’s prayer meetings with his staff.

After receiving a complaint, Principal Crispin Zanca removed the materials. Lee responded by recruiting a Religious Right advocacy group, the Rutherford Institute, to sue the school district.

In Lee v. York County School Division, the appellate panel held that “courts have generally recognized that the public schools possess the right to regulate speech that occurs within a compulsory classroom setting.” The ruling upheld an opinion by U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith that schools are not public forums and that teachers do not have unbridled free-speech rights during the work day.