Continue ignoring Liberty Counsel, FFRF tells Va. school district

Loudoun County High School

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is complimenting a Virginia school district for doing the right thing in ignoring a recent misguiding missive from a Christian nationalist group.

Liberty Counsel is objecting to Loudoun County Public Schools’ decision requiring a teacher to refrain from using a bible verse in her signature in her official district email account. In its letter, Liberty Counsel mischaracterized the Supreme Court’s recent decisions in Shurtleff v. City of Boston and Kennedy v. Bremerton, arguing that it is now religious discrimination to direct a teacher not to include religious expressions in official district communications.

This is blatantly inaccurate, and FFRF appreciates that the district has correctly disregarded these specious claims.

“It is well-settled law that public schools may not promote or show favoritism toward religion,” FFRF Attorney Chris Line writes to Loudoun County Public Schools Acting Superintendent Daniel Smith. “The statements of a district employee are attributable to the district. It is inappropriate and unconstitutional for the district or its agents to promote a religious message because it conveys government preference for religion over nonreligion.”

When district employees use official channels of communication to promote their religious beliefs, it sends a message of exclusion that needlessly alienates the students and families who belong to the 37 percent of Americans who are non-Christians, including the nearly one in three Americans who now identify as religiously unaffiliated. And it is not a violation of the free speech rights of employees when a school district regulates what employees say while acting in their official capacity, as the courts have repeatedly ruled.

Contrary to Liberty Counsel’s assertions, messages sent through official district emails by district staff members are government speech attributable to the district, and it is well within its rights to restrict the content of such messages, especially when the messages are used to violate students’ rights to be free from proselytizing by teachers. In Shurtleff v. City of Boston, the Supreme Court concluded that because the city had established a public forum, it could not deny a group from flying the Christian flag in that forum. However, the court also reaffirmed that “the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause does not prevent the government from declining to express a view.” Furthermore, contrary to Liberty Counsel’s assertion, the decision in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District does not apply to the facts at hand, since the judgment simply affirms that public school faculty and staff may pray silently and privately during times when they are not acting in their official capacity. Employee emails sent to students through the district’s official communications system pursuant to duties as a district employee are not private speech.

Loudoun County Public Schools is correct that allowing a public employee to retain a religious quote in their official email signature block is a violation of the First Amendment rights of students and co-workers — and should feel confident standing by its position. FFRF commends the school district for not capitulating to Liberty Counsel’s demands based on its deceitful misinterpretations of the current state of the law in public schools.

“Liberty Counsel is engaging in active deception here,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Loudoun County school officials should be applauded for their refusal to be misled.”

You can read the entire FFRF letter here.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 40,000 members across the country, including more than 900 members in Virginia. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

Send this to a friend