Teachers at the Buchtel Community Learning Center will no longer be allowed to wear religious-themed T-shirts in Akron, Ohio. These T-shirts promote the school’s athletic program with messages such as “Jesus Is My Hero,” “Pick Up the Cross and Follow Me: Jesus” and “God’s Got Our Back.” FFRF contacted Akron Public School Superintendent David James on June 5, explaining why public school employees may not wear religious T-shirts with proselytizing messages alongside official school athletics logos.
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote, “In addition to the constitutional concerns these T-shirts raise, the wearing of such religious garb violates the District’s own policies and guidelines. These policies restrict staff from using ‘his/her position or public property. . . for participant political or religious purposes.’ Wearing T-shirts calling upon others to follow Christ is not an example public school teachers are constitutionally allowed to set. Furthermore, the policy states staff would ‘dress in a manner constituent with their professional responsibilities.’”
The school district responded it takes such allegations seriously and requested names of specific teachers involved.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a follow-up letter in October, with names of staff who had worn the shirts, including the principal and assistant principal. Seidel also noted that the shirts were being sold in the official school store.
“Given the principal and assistant principal’s involvement, we have grave concerns that simply providing further information to teachers and staff about the appropriate constitutional boundaries will not fix this problem,” wrote Seidel. “The designs themselves align official athletics teams (not private student clubs) with Christianity in violation of the law.”
Seidel urged the district to confiscate the remaining stock of shirts, as well as remind staff not to wear the shirts to school.
The school district agreed to these terms on Oct. 23: “The entire school staff was notified that the donated shirts are not to be worn during school because they are a violation of the Board’s policy regarding the wearing of religious symbols. The rest of the donated T-shirts have been confiscated and will be given back to the donor.”