Cheektowaga teacher’s religious lawsuit likely to be dismissed

CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WIVB) – A federal lawsuit by a Cheektowaga science teacher who claimed her first amendment rights were violated when the district ordered her to remove religious objects from her classroom, is likely to be dismissed, according to the district’s superintendent Dennis Kane.

Kane tells News 4, “The case is over with, with the exception of an appeal.”

Joelle Silver, who teaches biology and life sciences at Cheektowaga High School, sued the district after she was ordered to remove religious posters and quotes. The district was concerned that her students might be influenced by her personal religious beliefs.

Silver took down a New Testament quote and another from Ronald Reagan, which spoke about the value of God to society and democracy.

A group called Freedom from Religion had received a complaint by a student who objected to the religious posting in the classroom. The group threatened a lawsuit if the district didn’t take action.

Silver then filed a federal civil rights lawsuit through a group called The American Freedom Law Center. It referred to itself as a non-profit Judeo-Christian law firm.

In a letter to Silver, Kane said, “You are using your publicly-funded classroom to express your personal religious beliefs to your students.”

The letter ordered her to “refrain from all other forms of communication with students that would conflict with your duty to show complete neutrality toward religion.”

Silver told News 4, “I believe that my first amendment rights were violated when I was asked to do some things regarding taking some posters down, and to censor my speech in the classroom.”

She added, “As a Christian, and as an American, I believe it’s incredibly important to fight to protect the rights that people have died to give me.”

In backing Silver’s claims, Robert Muise of the American Freedom Law Center said, “She was even prohibited from any communications with students during the school day that might have any religious content. It was essentially a religious cleansing that was complete and thorough.”

But now, Superintendent Kane says a federal administrative law judge recommendation has “vindicated the district, in recommending dismissal of all of the plaintiff’s claims [of the] right to display religious materials in her classroom.”  It recommends dismissal of the plaintiff’s first amendment claims in the lawsuit.

Attorney Muise reacted by saying “We think that not only the school district’s actions, but even this report and recommendation affirming those actions is dripping with hostility to religion.”

If a U.S. District judge agrees with the magistrate, Muise says there will be an appeal.  He believes the case could find its way to the Supreme Court.

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