Math Teacher with Godly Banners in Classroom Loses Lawsuit September 15, 2011

Math Teacher with Godly Banners in Classroom Loses Lawsuit

Bradley Johnson is a math teacher at Westview High School in the (public) Poway Unified School District in California. He’s been working in the district for decades.

You know he’s a math teacher because he’s had these posters hanging in his classroom for decades now:

In God We Trust
One Nation Under God
God Bless America
God Sheds His Grace On Thee.

All Men Are Created Equal, They Are Endowed By Their CREATOR

They remained in his room for 25 years and 17 years, respectively, without a complaint. But after he moved to a different school (in the district) in 2007, Principal Dawn Kastner correctly told him to take those posters down.

Johnson sued in reply.

Back in March, 2010, Judge Roger Benitez ruled that Johnson *could* keep the posters in his classroom. It was a shock to me, because I know I could never get away with promoting my beliefs about god in the classroom — and that’s the way it should be.

On Tuesday, though, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, finally overturned that horrendous ruling. (Our friends at Americans United wrote an amicus brief (PDF) siding with the school district in which they essentially said “he’s a government employee [when he’s in the classroom] and he’s not entitled to push a religious agenda.”)

Judge Richard C. Tallman is very blunt in the decision, too (PDF):

We consider whether a public school district infringes the First Amendment liberties of one of its teachers when it orders him not to use his public position as a pulpit from which to preach his own views on the role of God in our Nation’s history to the captive students in his mathematics classroom. The answer is clear: it does not.

Just as the Constitution would not protect Johnson were he to decide that he no longer wished to teach math at all, preferring to discuss Shakespeare rather than Newton, it does not permit him to speak as freely at work in his role as a teacher about his views on God, our Nation’s history, or God’s role in our Nation’s history as he might on a sidewalk, in a park, at his dinner table, or in countless other locations.

In essence, when you’re at school, teach the kids math. When you’re not supposed to be teaching, do whatever the hell you want. It’s really not that difficult.

The most shocking part of the ruling — something that’s gone basically unreported — is how Principal Kastner politely tried to explain to Johnson why the banners needed to come down before all the lawsuits began:

Kastner asked Johnson to consider how a student of a different faith might feel if they walked into his classroom and saw his banners. “[T]hey may feel like, ‘Wow, I’m not welcome,’ or ‘I’m not gonna fit in this classroom.’ And they may feel bad. And I can’t imagine that that would ever be your intent.” Johnson was not convinced. According to Kastner, he told her, “Dawn, sometimes that’s necessary,” and refused to either remove his banners or display the more contextual versions the school offered to provide. He explained that he had displayed the banners in some form or another since 1982, that they simply contained patriotic phrases, and that he considered it his “right to have them up.”

Wow… this guy’s a jerk. Even homophobe Jerry Buell said he respected all of his students despite his Christianity.

This should’ve happen a long time ago. It probably would have, too, if anyone else felt comfortable going up against him. It took another teacher at the new school to finally complain about the banners… decades after they originally went up.

At least the court got it right. And now Johnson and the (Christian) Thomas More Law Center are stuck paying the legal bill for the school district, an appropriate punishment given how they wasted everybody’s time.

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  • Anonymous

    I wonder whether they’ll appeal the decision. The Supreme Court is really aggressive on free speech issues (a good thing) but is a lot less good on separation of church and state issues (a bad thing), which would tend to favor this teacher.

    I’m happy to see the school district doing the right thing and going to court for the right reasons. So often we hear about school districts going to court to defend their right to pull shit like this teacher did, it’s rreally refreshing to hear of one defending their students rights to an evangelism free classroom.

  • It’s disgusting that he was allowed to do this unopposed for as long as he did.

  • As a confused outsider: Why is it that these wacky Christians are always attracted to Maths and Science?

    I never seem to hear about English teachers or History teachers being involved in this – where I imagine it would be easier to get unsubstantiated opinion accepted.

  • Aren’t those words just part of your songs about America?

  • Tony Russo

    I vote that in the future we use the phrase “the question of God”. So instead of “talking about God in the classroom” we have “talking about the question of God in the classroom.”  Teach the controversy, I say…

  • Anonymous


  • Tony Russo

    I feel as if History and English, etc. don’t have the credibility that the sciences have so they can’t do as much damage (they’d say good) as someone who, in their regular capacity, deals mostly in facts that aren’t in dispute.

  • Anonymous


  • Hopefully the man wasn’t trying to teach God’s math: 1 Jesus + 1 Father + 1 Spirit = 1 God

  • Anonymous

    I don’t know that this is neccesarily the case. It may simply be that science classrooms provide an environment where what a fundamentalist believes is in complete conflict with what they are supposed to teach. Thus, fundamentalists in humanities can happily teach their subjects with no inherent conflict with their beliefs (though that might get tricky in certain history classes), but a fundamentalist teaching biology comes head to head with evolution, a science fundamentalists are ordered to reject.

    In the US, fundamentalists have decided that evolution is an important battle in the culture wars, so fundamentalist teachers will be more likely to undermine the teaching of biology than the teaching of a different subject. In the case cited above it just seems coincidence that it was a science teacher, but the caseload is likely to be enriched by teachers undermining evolution.

  • Anonymous

    What if a Muslim teacher put up Islamic quotes, how would that have been recieved by the local community? Why do Christians think they should have preference in a country that has declared itself to freedom of expression.

    Freedom to express your beliefs is one thing, the indoctrination of a captive audience is another!

  • Alan

    I think they go for math and science because they understand that is where they feel they can have their beliefs legitimized.

  • Anonymous

    Next steps for the school district to ensure a systemic correction to this:

    1) Have an immediate photo audit of all classrooms on campus.
    – No announcements of this, just silently get it done over the weekend, no chance for people to “sanitize” their classroom.

    2) Going forward, all classroom observation audits will include digital images of all four walls and the ceiling.

    3) Official review with your classroom auditors in use by the district, teachers,  and principals, ensuring they understand the ruling, district policy, and to sign a document stating their understanding that engaging in this conduct and/or failure to report this type of violation in the future will result in corrective actions, up to and including termination of employment.

    If they are not willing to sign the document, request their resignation.

  • Anonymous

    Because people like this truly believe that the United States is a “Christian nation” and that freedom of religion applies only to Christianity. That’s why they think they have preference and why they think they can get away with it. Thankfully when the court rules the correct way, they can’t.

  • Mercurychyld

    I feel so very sorry for you all. 

  • It’s like taking away meth from a rabid puppy. Simultaneously innocent and hurt, and somewhat dangerous. Also, at $150/g, puppies don’t get to have meth. Where was I? Despite the painful withdrawal symptoms from being forced to quit his harmful addiction (in a classroom, no less), I’m comforted by his pragmatic words in reference to the potential alienation and discomfort caused to his students; “Dawn, sometimes that’s necessary”.

  • Elliott776

    What Seeker said. I you can’t argue with a strong fundamental Theist. 

  • who do you feel sorry for and why?

  • They will probably lose this at the US Supreme Court Level because these signs represents the legally acceptable standard of “Ceremonial Deism”.

    That said, any teacher can then make huge banners stating:

    “Ceremonial DEISM – The observation of the NATURAL WORLD”

    “Ceremonial DEISM – NATURE as THE CREATOR”

    “Ceremonial DEISM – WITHOUT organized religion”

    “In God We Trust – Because God is NATURE”



  • Michael

    Probably because maths and science don’t teach lessons about why being rude is a bad thing. Plenty of examples of that in English and history.

  • Andrew Morgan

    “It’s like taking away meth from a rabid puppy.”

    hahaha what?

  • Smorg Smorg

    Math, yes. I don’t know about science. Mathematicians tend to be more prone to religion than scientists are, I think, because the formers are mostly theoreticians while the latter does more practical applications.

    I know a few mathematicians and scientists (chemists and biologists), and some of the mathematicians get so fascinated by patterns so much they tend to think that points toward ‘god’ (though I don’t think they – the mathematicians I know – think enough about how similar or different their idea of ‘god’ is to that of particular religion, and the American ones would just only think of the Christian or Jewish god and nothing else). Math isn’t a science anyhow, even though it is the language scientists speak in. The real scientists I know are more keen on taking nature as it is and don’t feel the same urge to impose a ‘god’ label on it the way some mathematicians do.

    Of course, my sample size is too small… It is quite possible (and probable) that I’m hanging out with weirdos…

  • Wow, those banners are huge and ugly. I’m surprised no one complained before now simply on the basis of them being such an eye sore.

  • Wow, those banners are huge and ugly. I’m surprised no one complained before now simply on the basis of them being such an eye sore.

  • Rb6k

    Bore off, troll.

  • Courtney

    Well,  if you believe in God and you want to learn about Him,  more power to you…go to church.  If you don’t believe in God and you don’t want to learn about Him you shouldn’t have to endure being preached to about Him in school or at work or at the doctor….or where ever you may be that ISN’T a church.  It’s really a no-brainer. Kids in school are pretty much a captive audience,  whether they like the class or not.  They didn’t CHOOSE to be there,  they HAVE to be there.  For this math teacher to take advantage of this fact and force upon them his religious views  is distgusting.  Mr. Math teacher…you were hired to teach math and only math.  Do your job.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe because historians and English lit people are more likely to understand the origins of and rationale for church-state separation?

    My impression is that people in the humanities tend to have a more well-rounded education in the sense that they study history (including history of science & tech and religion), classics, philosophy, literary criticism, sociology, psychology, anthropology etc. They read literature from all over the world from different historical periods and have a broad, cosmopolitan perspective.

    Math and science and engineering people tend to be more specialised and focused on their fields. In fact, STEM people often look down on humanities as disciplines unworthy of their attention (social science isn’t *real* science; English & History are more tolerant of unsubstantiated opinion…you know, like that).

  • Anonymous

    “Dawn, sometimes that’s necessary,” says the math teacher. An appropriate response would have been, “Bradley, it’s necessary that I fire your ass. Get out.”

  • Anonymous

    Note: The impressions I related in my previous post are based on my own experience. It might be quite different in the US, as many things are.

  • Anonymous

    “Kastner…refused to either remove his banners or display the more contextual versions the school offered to provide.

  • Puppies are $150/g? Man, inflation is crazy…

  • Those sayings were all taken from non biblical sources, those are all well known american slogans that have been around for a long time. So now because you don’t like it we have to change our history, we can’t sing bless America anymore, heck, if its up to you, its totally unconstitutional to say God bless you to someone if they sneeze right? No more pledge of allegiance either

  • whats disgusting is his violation of freedom of speech. It wasn’t disgusting for the last 20 years right? And don’t tell me in 20+ years this man has been teaching someone just now noticed, he was simply called out now to appeal to the masses and the direction this country is already going, toward a godless society

  • All of the comments on here are just hilarious to me. Oh ya’ll want to to defend these YOUNG ADULTS as if they’re completely unable to think for themselves and as if this teacher is teaching out of a bible and not a textbook. Oh no, if poor little timmy sees a God bless america poster, he will be so distraught and so tortured, heck, in the worst case scenario, HE MAY EVEN BELIEVE THAT THERE IS ACTUALLY A GOD!!! HOW TERRIBLE WOULD THAT BE!! Im sorry but a God bless america banner is not gonna force any religious belief on anyone. Everyone, even kids, are free to think for themselves and have the right to accept or reject something, unless you have cerebral palsy, and I don’t think he was teaching a special needs class.

  • houstonguy

    i see no religious beliefs at all in patriotism. If America feels these phrases are too inappropiate, they should change the slogan for Patriotism. Are we gonna have to get attacked again for people to have pride to be an American

  • Everyone stop pretending like kids  are brainless robots, unable to think, unable to rationalize, unable to accept or reject something. These are young men and women in there teens who most likely already have a very strong religious view, whether positive or negative. Atheists, please do me a favor, and stop defending people who aren’t asking to be defended. Do you really think a young man, or young woman is gonna be swayed into a religious view by a God bless america banner. Please, get a freakin clue, go plant a garden or something and do something for humanity instead of trying force everyone to live like an atheist because it offends you.

  • Mihangel apYrs

    would you have been so protective had he been Muslim?

  • A Hangman on Tyre

    There you have it Christian privilege fully on display…….

  • A Hangman on Tyre

    Nice try……

    If he was being patriotic instead of being religious, why couldn’t he use other sayings that did not reference God — I am sure there are plenty of them

    One Nation, Indivisible
    We the people….
    Home of the Brave

    I’m not even American and I just came up with 3……..

  • Devin Defrancesco

    Wow. Wow.
    God bless you is a personal thing. You have 100% freedom to say that. The pledge is blatantly unconstitutional. It was added when we were fighting against the USSR. It should be removed.
    Similarly, a STUDENT should be able to bring in any religious book they want, and each school should provide prayer/meditation/time for students. Teachers, on the other hand, should TRY to hide their personal beliefs. (Most students aren’t stupid so they will know a teacher’s beliefs.)

  • Rabid

    “No more pledge of allegiance either”

    You say that like it would be a bad thing…

  • A Hangman on Tyre

    He’s allowed to proseltyze as much as he wants — outside work hours and outside the public building he works in…And just because he hadn’t been told to stop in 20 years doesn’t mean it is right.

    If he had been pinching female students asses for 20 years and someone just complained would that make it right?

  • malcontent

    “In essence, when you’re at school, teach the kids math. When you’re not
    supposed to be teaching, do whatever the hell you want. It’s really
    not that difficult.”  It obviously IS for some people.  Then again, SOME PEOPLE are just plain stupid baaaaaa (sorry, had to get it out of my system)  brain washed sheep.

  • Devin Defrancesco

    Or atheist? You’d be against there is no god posters. Correct?

  • Lyra

    So, when I become a teacher, do I get to put up giant banners with quotes like

    “Question with boldness even the
    existence of God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the
    homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear”

    “Religions are all alike — founded upon fables and mythologies.”

    “The whole history of these books [the Gospels] is so defective
    and doubtful that it seems vain to attempt minute enquiry into
    it: and such tricks have been played with their text, and with
    the texts of other books relating to them, that we have a right,
    from that cause, to entertain much doubt what parts of them are
    genuine. In the New Testament there is internal evidence that
    parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that
    other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is as
    easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills.”

    “And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. But may we hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this most venerated reformer of human errors.”

    “Rogueries, absurdities and untruths were perpetrated upon the teachings of Jesus by a large band of dupes and importers led by Paul, the first great corrupter of the teaching of Jesus.”

    “I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature.”

    All by Thomas Jefferson: Founding Father of the USA.

  • Jeff Ritter

    The problem with that Josh is that young kids are notoriously easily persuaded. Peer pressure affects adults to, but to a much lesser degree. It is possible that in the last 20 years kids did feel threatened yet were to scared to speak up for fear of becoming a social pariah, and face it, during your teen years your whole world consists of whatever social life you have with your school friends. I can’t say that believing in a god would be a “terrible” thing in and of itself any more than not believing is a terrible thing. What is terrible is what many christians do with their faith. It is clear that this teacher was trying to make a point that was more religious in nature than patriotic. There are a number of other slogans one could say, among them the first unofficial motto that truly represents the ideal of freedom we all hold so dear: E Pluribus Unum

  • “Do you really think a young man, or young woman is gonna be swayed into a religious view by a God bless america banner.”

    No, and if you’d actually read for comprehension, you’d see that was not the reason for the objection.

  • Devin Defrancesco

    If an Islamic teacher (my former chess coach/a middle school history teacher is an example of an openly Islamic teacher) put up Islamic posters, he’d be fired in an instant.

  • And I bet you’d be just as tolerant of this if the banners promoted Wiccan gods, right?

    If not, then maybe you can see the point.

  • Greg

    To be fair, I too feel sorry for you all…

    All you in the US that have to put up with teachers like this one, that is. 😉

  • Anonymous

    It’s not about being a proud American. This is a MATH class, and the teacher has selectively EDITED items out of context, and then HYPER-EMPHASIZED BY SIZE, BOLDING, AND COLOR CHANGES  – THE MOST RELIGIOUS ASPECTS THEREOF TO ACCENTUATE.

    *In context*, without the hyper accentuation of the deist language and slipping in non-historical items like “god bless america”, then certainly a candidate for a US History teacher to use.

    In their current form – as a whole, they scream quite loudly a very specific “THIS IS A CHRISTIAN NATION” stance and create an atmosphere that is unnecessarily antagonistic to those who do not share that faith or view.

    If he wants those up on the side of his house, feel free to have them there. Feel free to carry them to the next Westboro Baptist Church Rally he attends. Those guys believe they’re being patriotic too…

  • Joshua, please get a freakin’ clue.  Go plant a garden or something and do something for humanity instead of trying force everyone to accept Christianity because anything else offends you.

  • Annie

    OK Joshua.  Let’s pretend for a moment that it is not unlawful for the math teacher to have these banners in his classroom.  Why does he have them there?  Well, he told us.  Sometimes it’s necessary to make some kids feel uncomfortable.  Does this not strike you as a strange reason?  As a teacher, my job is to make my students always feel comfortable, welcome, and ready to learn.  Most teachers would never do something with the sole purpose to make some students feel uncomfortable. 

    WWJD?  Hmm…

  • Novelyn Price

    Only if you stop pretending that you have an imaginary, invisible 3-in-1 sky daddy who watches you poop, lets children in Africa starve to death, but cares about prayers regarding lottery winnings, the results of the Super Bowl, and pregnancy tests.

    This isn’t about intelligent children being swayed to believe in myths; no one here is fighting to have The Trojan War removed from Literature Class. This is about separation of church and state. 

    No one is forcing anyone to be an atheist, cognitive dissonance may, but we are not. Stop trying to be a victim, it makes you appear under educated.

  • Demonhype

    Why don’t you answer any of the questions that have been asked yet?  Such as Lyra’s list of quotes by Jefferson questioning religious as being equally as “patriotic” and “historic” as the god bothering you’re defending?  Or the general questions about whether you would be defending “freedom of speech” and that “these are teens with beliefs that are already established and strong” if it was an atheist teacher pulling this kind of crap.

    My guess is you won’t ever answer because your answer would be “no, only Christians are allowed to use the public classroom and taxpayer funding to further their agendas and push their beliefs, becuz we iz speshul.”  And thereby make your arrogant Christian privilege obvious to anyone reading this.

    BTW, if it was an atheist with huge banners saying there is no god, you can bet the atheists here would be against that just as fervently as they’d be against this guy.  Because most atheists tend to hold other atheists to standards and not just give them a free pass because they like what they’re hearing or agree with the POV itself.

  • Demonhype

    This!  Seriously, I hear his “sometimes it’s necessary…” and think of all those Christians throughout history who believed it to be “necessary” to commit all manner of atrocities on Jews, Muslims, Witches (and suspected witches), Pagans and even atheists.  It only looks wrong to you because you lack faith.  What the Inquisition does is a holy thing, done in the spirit of Love and He who is Love, for their own sakes and for the sakes of all humanity.  Persecution only happens to Christians.  What we do to the non-Christians is just tough love.

    Same mentality, anyway.

  • Demonhype

    Because as they  blow out their sphincters in pious rage at the idea of atheists being visible in any way no matter how polite, and in a wholly appropriate and legal setting, they can’t imagine how anyone could be so petty as to oppose their blatant effort to force their beliefs illegally on a captive audience, and why can’t those unbelievers just shut up about their constitutionally protected rights and pretend not to exist so Christians can go on basking in their unearned privilege like they did in the old days of morals and values when non-Christians had to be afraid to be seen?

    Because right and wrong to a Christian seems to be about who is Christian and who is not, rather than, you know, actual right and wrong.  Fortunately, I know not all Christians are like that and many understand the simple premise of church/state separation and why it is important and beneficial for everyone  (my mom usually does, for example), but the “I should have special privileges” sort of Christian is always way louder and more obnoxious.  And a hell of a lot more ready to try and bully away any dissent.

  • Edmond

    How is it we can find courts that are willing to ask how CHILDREN of other faiths (or none) would feel in a CLASSROOM adorned with these slogans, but there don’t seem to be any that care how GROWN CITIZENS of other faiths (or none) feel about being forced to walk around with stacks of these slogans folded up in their WALLETS, used as necessary mechanisms of trade and compensation?

  • Drew M.

    Thanks for your kind compassion. I agree that it is loathsome that we Americans have to put up with teachers who feel the need to indoctrinate our children.

  • Drew M.

    Bah, I composed my reply before I read this. I didn’t steal from you, honest! 😉

  • Drew M.

    Heh. Just another textbook example of Christian love and understanding:  If a student doesn’t believe in the Judeo Christian god, then fuck him.

    Oh, and by the way, cerebral palsy is a motor function disorder. The person’s actual mind isn’t retarded in any way, unlike yours.

  • Tom

    A better response would be “Necessary for precisely what and whose purposes?  Because they are neither this school’s nor the nation’s.”

  • LadyMoonsong

    Agreed, and using The Law as a petty weapon/shield is no better than someone using the Bible. It’s a bad call, separation of church and state was meant to keep religion out of politics, schools have nothing to do with politics. For 20 years the man did his job, he taught math regardless of the banners. What’s the problem here? Simple, people want to nit pick, rage, and be a dick over stupid things, not realizing how petty and dumb it makes them look esp considering they’re neglecting what’s move important.

  • False_Flagg

    WHO said he WASN’T doing his job dickhead!? The PRINCIPAL told him it *MIGHT*, as in MAYBE offend someone like lets say a MUSLIM so she told him to take it down. Oh! but YOU support Muslims huh. You ALL do. I hope the muzzies complain that they cant pray in school, lets see YOU and the PRINCIPAL COMPLAIN THEN!! FUCK ALL YOU KOMMIES!!! “IN GOD WE TRUST” “GOD BLESS AMERICA”. if THIS *OFFENDS* (YOU) I dont really give a flying fuck!! All you anti American kommie SOBS can go to hell! HE WASNT PREACHING. AND THIS COUNTRY WAS FOUNDED ON CHRISTIAN BELIEFS. I hope a MUSLIM cuts YOUR kids head off after praying IN SCHOOL LIKE THEY NOW DO IN SAN DIEGO!! MUSLIMS can PRAY IN SCHOOL and they even INSTALL PRAYER RESTS FOR THEM BUT AND AMERICAN CANT HANG A BANNER! FUCK YOU ALL!!

  • UAJamie

    Hey Hemant, quick question. What school was this teacher at before Westview? If it was within in the district, there’s only three. I ask because if I likely know at least one person that took a math class with him and want to narrow it down. I don’t see the previous school’s name mentioned in any articles.

  • Lb871

    What everyone seems to now be discussing is religion….Jesus did not reside  in the USA when he lived on Earth.  But God did give us his son for our sins, as was The Bible , his teachings and words to follow. Respect for each others beliefs is needed here . We are a country Founded on Christianity brought to us by our forefathers. In God we Trust- on our money We use… One Nation Under one God Indivisable with liberty and justice for all ….WERE the foundation of our USA …God Bless America , God Shed his Grace on Thee, Songs written for the ones who believed in our freedom and wished many blessings on our great country. For the unbelievers I do not wish to push my beliefs on you BUT regardless God is a Big part of the USA and its has been since the states were formed.  I remember having all these things in my classroom,BUT the Classroom was not math… I do think many of our freedoms are being taken from us though. AND  someone here did make an outsanding comment. Go to Church to learn obout God not school…WE who ARE CHRISTIAN do need to get our children back to God Our lands Back to God.I choose to believe and At least if we wake to find there is no God we would have lived by a Book that had great teaching on how to treat others, rights from wrongs etc and if we wake in Heaven Glory will be ours in Eternity. The ‘world’ is heading in the direction of the day when all word of God will be removed from all things because it is against ‘rights’ ….. But does not this follow with the Bible? With the disobedience and evil we see in this world?  Church and State issues? Man and God issues? Believer and un believer issues ? ………..

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