Columbine Lawsuit

On Monday friends and relatives of students killed at Columbine High School on April 20 filed a lawsuit against the school district, claiming a violation of First Amendment free speech rights.

Apparently the school district had invited certain friends and relatives of the deceased students to paint commemorative 4 by 4 inch tiles that later were placed above lockers at the school before it reopened. School officials first told the plaintiffs that the tiles could not have religious symbols on them, then changed their mind and said that they could, then changed their mind again and removed tiles with religious materials on them.

Among the tile removed was one painted by the mother of one of the murdered boys. That tile had a heart with a rose and the boy’s name. A cross about 1 inch tall was superimposed over the stem of the rose. The presence of the cross caused the removal of the tile.

What say you, Teeming Millions? I’m squarely with the parents, myself. This isn’t a case of the school or the government endorsing religion. Do government-owned cemetaries now have to remove and ban crosses and Stars of David on graves?


I agree with you on this one Melin.


Sounds like the school district going overboard in trying to keep church and state separate. I would think that they would have anticipated a lawsuit beforehand.

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Moomph. I am a practicing Christian, as most GD participants know, and I am trying not to let that color my views here at all.

I personally think that whatever symbol serves as a memento of the killed kid to his parents and friends would be acceptable, even under the “wall of separation” doctrine.

The school is obliged not to in any way “establish a religion,” including by allowing any religious symbol to be put in place under its authority. But by throwing the matter of symbols on tiles to represent the slain students open to their families and agreeing to post those tiles, they have distanced themselves from that requirement, and the parents can use whatever suits them. This would include an inverted pentagram if the student had been a pagan to whom that symbol had meaning, for all of that, or two intertwined Mars glyphs if the student were gay (and male); substitute Venus if Lesbian. Or that goofy-looking glyph that the Artist (FKAP) claims is his name, if the kid had been a fan of his. Or whatever had meaning.

Too many school authorities seem to take the attitude that “anything not required is forbidden” especially as regards the students’ religious beliefs, or lack of same. The kids have the same freedom of religion when they enter the school doors as outside, subject only to the need of the school to maintain necessary discipline. They can neither mandate, encourage, discourage, nor prohibit a student’s expression of religion. Period. Anything else goes against his/her First Amendment rights, which do not wait until his/her 18th birthday or graduation to go into effect.

I would like to think that I’d be taking the same point of view if what was on the tile were an atheist symbol (is there one?) or whatever.

Without knowing more, I am restraining myself from making a possibly ignorant comment about how if the authorities had taken as much interest in the students’ lives a few months ago, there would be no need to decide whether the tiles meet some criteria or other, because there would have been no need of the tiles.

I’m with you all the way, Polycarp. The school is being stupid, and rather heartless in this case.

“Eppur, si muove!” - Galileo Galilei

OK, legal eagles, help he out here.

At what point did the 1st amendment proscription of Congress’ establishment of a religion extend to schools in such a way that no religious icon can be allowed?

There’s no question that it’s accepted, but where did that connection arise?

Is this really a “legal” point, or the opinion of some educrats?

I like Norse mythology (hence my online names), but I don’t think that if I had some drawing of a Thor’s hammer on my locker that they would find that offensive. Likewise, if I had something depicting Kali, I doubt that anyone would complain.

First amendment says “Congress shall make no law regarding an establishment of religion.” Interpretation from T. Jefferson on has been that that prohibits the Feds. from favoring any one religion over another, extended to any encouragement of religion over irreligion when cases involving non-believers entered the picture. (attorney posters, got a date for this?)

Fourteenth Amendment has been, at least since 1937, interpreted as extending the rights guaranteed as against Federal action in the Bill of Rights to situations as against State action, or action by entities created by the state, including municipalities and school districts. This has been a scattergun approach, extending each right on a one-by-one basis, but has been consistently done. (Any exceptions to that consistency? I know there are some rights not yet extended, because the cases haven’t come up.)

That school administrators have a right to exclude anything smacking of religion is their opinion, and is not, so far as I know, that of any court having jurisdiction to do such interpretation. That they have the right to prohibit anything that appears to force a religious belief on a student has almost certainly been covered in some case somewhere. The Jehovah’s Witness/flag salute cases come to mind as being a not-quite-on-target parallel.

Apropos your Thor/Kali comment, I’ve always thought that if I were a '90’s high school student and not Christian, I’d want to claim being a Saivasamha (right term? Siva devotee) for the rad. symbol I’d be able to wear and claim it was religiously motivated. :wink:

Melin wrote:

Hell yes, they ought to! You want to pontificate with your tombstone, you can do it on private land.

This is really sad. Unfortunately, it is just one more example of the school system’s mentatlity of “let’s not do anything about the problems in our school until something huge happens, and then we can get anal and overreact about irrelevant things and still not solve any real problems.” The point of these tiles was not to witness in the schools and annoy non-Christians or anything like that. It was to help the grieving friends and families of the victims of a terrible tradgedy. If a religious symbol was important to that kid, and it helps his family remember him, who is anybody to say that that is wrong?


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I’m disgusted with the state of affairs in our government, at all levels.

On one hand, we have a public school system that invited the relatives of the deceased to paint commemorative tiles for display in their public school, and then wimped when they saw a cross.

What the hell did they think the relatives and friends of the deceased were going to paint on those tiles?

On the other hand, the Brooklyn art museum screams “censorship” if hizzoner The Mayor cuts public funding over a picture of The Holy Mother splattered with elephant shit (among other things).

Only in the latter case has the ACLU had anything to say.

Does this seem as upside-down to anyone else as it does to me?

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I’ll agree with you if I find out that the ACLU turned down a request for assistance from the bereaved families. The ACLU has, in several instances, defended the rights of students to use bibles for personal meditation in schools, going all the way to the Supreme Court for a case from Kansas or Nebraska. Did the local ACLU even know what was going on between the families and the school board?

If the ACLU sided with the school administration, then I think they were out of line. If they did not even know what was happening in the private negotiations until the lawsuit was filed, then I hardly think it is fair to castigate them.


I honestly don’t know what I think about this one. On the one hand, I’m not entirely sure how it can be a violation of free speech, because there is nothing that says the school has to show any of them. Yes, they invited them, but that doesn’t mean they HAVE to put them up. I do think it’s probably a case of the school misunderstanding the rules and going overboard, but I haven’t seen their side of it yet and would like to see what legal advice they may have received before I make a decision on what I think.

Well, it seems the “lawsuit” is being backed by the same nutcase, right-wing group that was behind all the anti-Clinton campaigns of late.

Look at today’s issue of, there’s an article about it.

There seems to be the usual “That’s what you said.” “We didn’t say that.” back-and-forth according to the article. I was struck by the following quotes, however:

And in response to a statement that the school invited the parents to make memorial tiles for the school, but were forbidden to create tiles which were religious:

According to this, the tile project is an on-going one within the school and the intent was to hasten re-integration by allowing community members to participate in that project.

Had the actual invitation been for survivors to create a memorial, I would think the school would be on pretty shaky ground by setting up an after-the-fact jury to eliminate certain tiles (for whatever criteria).

Participation in an existing project is not, however, the same as an invitation to create a memorial. If the school is eliminating only religious-based imagery (and text) while allowing other clear images or text of a personal, but non-religious, nature, then I think the school is in the wrong. If the school has eliminated all text and all representative imagery and the only people complaining are one who had submitted religious references, then I think the complainers are out of line.

I’m sure there are reasonable people of good will who can differ as to the rules that were set out, originally, but I’m less inclined to see this as a clear-cut case of either tyranny or separation of church and state at this point.


Darn it, Tom, another good rant totally destroyed by the facts! And one that Gaudere agreed with me on, too!

You’ve got to stop bringing logic and factual data into these arguments! :wink:

Sorry. It’s a personal failing.