Tennessee officials relent, allow 'religious' bricks outside school
By The Associated Press
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. Two commemorative bricks inscribed with
religious messages will be included in the entrance of a new public elementary
school after all.
The Hamilton County School District on Aug. 1 reversed an earlier
decision to exclude the bricks, deciding instead to allow them and settle a
federal lawsuit filed by the American Center for Law and Justice.
The lawsuit, which was filed in June, argued that the school
district's exclusion of the bricks violated the free-speech rights of parents
Melody and Tom Horne, who bought one of the bricks for $50 as part of a
fund-raiser at Westview Elementary School.
The Hornes ordered the brick in honor of their daughter, Hope, and
requested the inscription: "Hope Horne, To the Glory of God." They were told at
the time they could inscribe the brick as they wished.
The lawsuit charged that the school board and officials "prevented
Plaintiffs from exercising their sincerely held religious beliefs, solely for
the reason that Plaintiffs' proposed speech is religious."
A second family, Brian and Robyn Smith, asked that "Praying for You
and Westview" be etched on a brick on behalf of their son, Andrew. The Smiths
did not participate in the lawsuit.
In May, the school district chose to exclude the two bricks from the
walkway, deciding that they represented an endorsement of religion.
"The initial reaction was more surprise at the denial than anything,"
Brian Smith said. "This was a message to our son that someone is praying for
you and your school, nothing more."
In the settlement, the school district agreed to include both bricks
in the new walkway, and to pay the ACLJ $7,500 in attorneys fees.
In return, the ACLJ agreed to drop its lawsuit.
Stuart J. Roth, director of the ACLJ office in Mobile, Ala., said the
decision sent a clear message that schools could not discriminate against
religious speech. The ACLJ is a public-interest law firm founded by
conservative broadcaster Pat Robertson.
"Our position was clear from the outset, that our clients had the
right to have a brick inscribed with a religious message," he said.
Deputy Superintendent Robert Smith had recommended that the bricks be
excluded from the project on the advice of school board attorney Jack Benson.
His recommendation was later upheld by the school board.
Robert Smith declined to comment on the settlement, referring all
questions to Benson. Benson , who was out of town and could not be reached for
comment, had said at the time of the recommendation that "you cannot enhance
any religion with the use of public funds."
Superintendent Jesse Register did not immediately return a call
The walkway and inscribed bricks will lead from the drive to the front
door of the new Westview school, set to open this fall. About $15,000 for the
walkway was raised through the sale of the commemorative bricks.
Brian Smith said that though he and his wife did not join the lawsuit,
they still felt strongly that their brick belonged in front of the school.
"Number one, I couldn't quite understand how our message enhanced
religion. And number two, there was no use of public funds. We paid for it," he
A similar incident occurred in Oswego County, N.Y., when bricks
inscribed with Jesus' name were removed from the entrance of Mexico High
The Mexico School Board adopted a policy prohibiting any political,
religious or profane expressions on bricks after some in the community
complained that inscribing the name "Jesus" was inappropriate.
In that case, one of the residents who purchased a brick that read
"Jesus Saves" hired a lawyer from the Virginia-based Rutherford Institute to
A lawsuit is expected to be filed in federal court this week against
the Mexico school board, according to a representative from the Rutherford
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