3rd appeal in decade-long battle over child's portrait of Christ
A former kindergarten student has been fighting a legal battle for 10 years after his teacher and principal censored his art project because it included a figure of Jesus.
Tomorrow, a federal appeals court will revisit the case for a third time in a decade.
According to the complaint, Antonio Peck's kindergarten teacher, Susan Weichert, instructed the class to create a poster with cutout pictures illustrating the children's understanding of the environment and asking them to show ways to take care of the earth.
Peck, former student of Catherine McNamera Elementary School during the 1999-2000 school year, drew a picture with featuring religious figures and the words, "The only way to save the world."
"Antonio was expressing his belief that God was the only way to save the environment," Liberty Counsel, the nonprofit law group representing the boy, wrote in a statement.
But Peck's poster was rejected because of its religious content, according to the report. The young boy was forced to draw a second poster.
Peck's next poster featured cutouts of people picking up garbage and children holding hands around a globe. He also included a cutout of a bearded man wearing a robe with his hands stretched toward the sky.
"To Antonio, this figure was Jesus, although the figure was not identified," the report states.
The following is Peck's poster as he submitted it for the kindergarten assignment:
The boy's poster was displayed for part of one day on a cafeteria wall, just like 80 other student posters, with one exception – his drawing was folded in half to conceal Jesus.
Peck's mother observed her son's assignment posted on the wall as follows:
Liberty Counsel has represented Peck and his mother in the case of Peck v. Baldwinsville School District since 1999.
This is the third time the appeals court will consider this case – as a judge who has ruled against Peck three times and has been overruled twice by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.
In 2000, New York federal Judge Norman Mordue ruled that the school was permitted to censor the poster due to "church and state" concerns. In 2001, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision 3-0 and sent the case back to the trial court.
In 2004, Judge Mordue ruled in favor of the school district yet again. But, for a second time, he was reversed 3-0 in 2005 when the appeals court said public schools cannot censor a student's viewpoint on permissible subject when it is responsive to a school assignment.
In October 2008, Judge Mordue ruled once again that the public school was permitted to censor the poster.
Liberty Counsel filed the present appeal, and founder Mathew Staver will argue the case tomorrow before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, the same court that has ruled twice in Peck's favor.
"Students may present religious themes in their homework," Staver said. "Despite the federal guidelines on religion in public schools recognizing that students may include religious themes in assignments, school officials insisted on folding Antonio Peck’s poster in half to hide the figure they interpreted to be Jesus."
He continued, "What a terrible message to send to students that everything is permissible so long as it is not Christian. These educators need educating about the Constitution and American history."