Student Penalized Over Religious Artwork

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A Wisconsin student who received a "zero" on a Christian drawing has filed a law suit against his school district, Friday.

The student, only referred to by his initials, A.P., says he was denied his freedom of expression when he was singled out for his Christian art. Other students were allowed to turn in demon-like drawings. A.P says he has also been censored on other assignments.

Now, attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund are representing A.P. in his suit against the Tomah Area School District.

"Christian students shouldn't be penalized for expressing their beliefs," said ADF Senior Legal Counsel David Cortman. "It is unconstitutional for the school to punish students simply because they choose to exercise their First Amendment rights."

"Teachers are not permitted to censor Christian religious expression in artwork, while at the same time allowing other types of religious depictions," Cortman added.

An Assignment Like No Other

The lawsuit states that A.P.'s art teacher, Julie Millin, gave her class an assignment in February to complete a landscape drawing. On his drawing, A.P. added a cross and the words "John 3:16 - A Sign of Love," which Millin said other students made comments about.

 View a picture of the drawing here.

After refusing to remove the Bible reference, A.P.'s teacher gave him a zero on the project. She then showed him a class policy he had signed that prohibited "violence, blood, sexual connotations or religious beliefs" in artwork.

The project was also removed within an hour from a display wall.

Knowing Your Rights

School officials argue that they had the right to censor student's religious beliefs.

Millin said A.P. had given up his constitutional rights when he signed the policy. When she showed the signed paper to A.P., he tore it up in front of her. Millen then cursed at him, kicked him out of class and gave him two days detention.

Later that day, assistant principal Cale Jackson said the teen's religious expression violated other students' rights. Jackson also told A.P.'s stepfather and his pastor that his religious expression could be legally censored at the school.

ADF attorneys believe otherwise.

"The student was correct. A public school cannot require students to sign away their constitutional right to free speech and religious expression," Cortman explained.

Greg Gaarder, Tomah Area School District's business manager, said in a statement to CBN News that the district recognizes the beliefs of all students, but must also use discretion.

"While the District respects all students' religious freedoms, those freedoms are not a license for students to force the school to display religious messages of their choosing or to force the school to accept schoolwork that deliberately defies the rules of the class and the requirements of the assignment," he said.

 Read the full statement here.

Christian Faith Censored

A.P. was later censored again in his metals class after teacher Margi Gengrich told him he could not make a cross necklace as a result of his landscape drawing. The student said he also decided not to make pins with "pray" and "praise" on them.

A.P. was a good student with a 3.58 grade point average, who had never been in trouble at the school before, ADF attorneys say. The student said he has strong faith in God and enjoys expressing his beliefs through his art.

ADF noted that the school has allowed displays of Hindu and Buddhist figurines, and demonic drawings and masks.

 See two examples of other students' work here and here.

Sources: CBN News, Alliance Defense Fund, The Associated Press, Tomah School District

*Original post April 2, 2008.

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