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On The Front Lines

Religious Brick Case Appealed to Second Circuit Court of Appeals

Rutherford Institute Attorneys Appeal Unfavorable Decision from U.S. District Court

Albany, N.Y.--
Rutherford Institute attorneys have appealed a U.S. District Court ruling to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of Oswego County residents who sued Mexico Academy High School for violating their free speech and equal protection rights. The residents charge that after encouraging them to purchase, inscribe, and place bricks in the school walkway as part of a student fundraiser, school officials removed bricks containing overt Christian messages.

Students of the Mexico Academy High School Class of 1999 conducted a fundraiser allowing members of the community to purchase bricks for $30 each, to be inscribed with a personal message and placed in the walkway to the school's entrance. The only restriction placed on the messages was that they not contain "obscene and vulgar language." Paul Anderson, Robert Kiesinger and Ronald Russell, all residents of Oswego County, purchased bricks and inscribed them with religious messages including, "Jesus Saves/ John 3:16" and "Jesus Is Lord." In response to a complaint about the religious messages on the bricks from a member of the community, the school erected a plaque within the walkway stating, "The messages in this walk are the personal expressions and contributions of the individuals of Mexico Academy and Central School Community." In so doing, the school clearly established that the messages were private free speech not endorsed by the school. Despite the plaque bearing the disclaimer, after renewed threats of a lawsuit, school officials moved the bricks and placed them out of sight, under shrubbery lining the walk.
School officials eventually jackhammered out of the walk all bricks inscribed with overtly Christian messages. The school stated that any bricks bearing the name of Jesus were considered to be promoting a particular religion and could not be included in the walkway. However, officials allowed messages such as "God Bless You" to remain since they did not pertain to a particular religion. The original lawsuit charged that school officials discriminated against some of the residents' religious views by specifically censoring the Christian messages inscribed on their bricks and thereby violated their rights guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments and the New York Constitution. The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief against the school board and its mandate that required the removal of the bricks. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York rejected the plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction to have the bricks reinstalled, and attorneys are appealing the decision.

"Once lost, the right to express one's faith, even temporarily, cannot be regained," said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. "By singling out only Christian expression for censorship, Mexico officials have singled out the Christian members of the community for disfavor and second-class status."

The Rutherford Institute is an international, nonprofit civil liberties organization committed to defending constitutional and human rights.

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