Discover more from Friendly Atheist
Christian teacher demands VA school district let her write "John 3:16" in emails
A right-wing legal group is now threatening to sue the district
This newsletter is free, but it’s only able to sustain itself due to the support I receive from a small percentage of regular readers. Would you please consider becoming one of those supporters? You can use the button below to subscribe to Substack or use my usual Patreon page!
A high school teacher who signed all her work emails with “John 3:16” is threatening a lawsuit against the Loudoun County Public Schools in Virginia after they told her to put a stop to it. She’s being represented, naturally, by the Christian Right group Liberty Counsel, which equates her not-so-subtle religious proselytizing with other district employees who include pronouns in their email signatures.
A letter from Liberty Counsel to the school district spelled out the ridiculous concerns:
We understand that Loudoun County Public Schools… has no written policy governing email signature blocks, and by practice allows teachers to place in their signature block a variety of examples of private expression selected by and attributable to the teachers as individuals, including personally-selected pronouns, quotations, pictures, or phrases. All of these are non-school-sponsored, private expression or speech. However, LCPS has required Mrs. [redacted] to remove her non-school-sponsored, private expression of her personal faith—a Bible verse—from her email signature block, on the basis its inclusion is prohibited by the Establishment Clause.
The argument is that if other teachers are allowed to include anything personal in their email signatures, then this teacher should be able to promote her religion. Not allowing her to do so is apparently unconstitutional.
It doesn’t take a legal scholar to see through that argument, though. Putting harmless quotations in an email signature doesn’t interfere with any teacher’s responsibilities. Including identifying pronouns is like including a phonetic pronunciation; it’s there to benefit people who may not know who they’re speaking to. If you see that as a promotion of some liberal agenda, that’s your problem and a sign that you’re addicted to conspiracy-spewing propaganda networks.
Liberty Counsel cites a couple of Supreme Court decisions like Shurtleff v. City of Boston, the case in which the conservative Court said that if Boston allowed any flags to go up outside their city hall, they couldn’t say no to a Christian flag. But the school district situation isn’t analogous. There’s no public forum when it comes to email signatures. It’s not like teachers can express their political opinions in their signatures, and there’s no evidence that anyone is doing so.
Since logic and legal precedent aren’t on their side, though, Liberty Counsel went with an emotional plea. They say their client is a longtime teacher who loves Jesus… none of which matters. They say that after the district told her she couldn’t put “John 3:16” in her emails, she offered a replacement Bible verse: "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. ~ Proverbs 22:6.” (That verse has been used in the past to justify beating children.) The district said no to that as well for the same reason as before. She couldn’t use her position to promote her religion just like all other employees.
Side note: The damn fools at Liberty Counsel actually cited “Proverbs 23:6” in their letter.
That verse actually says, “Do not eat the food of a begrudging host, do not crave his delicacies.” Which is just a wild thing for any public school teacher to say, period. It’s not clear which buffoon at Liberty Counsel didn’t bother checking Bible verses before dashing off an angry letter. Or maybe it was the fault of the teacher herself, despite her faith being “such a part of who she is.”
The district has already said there’s no hypocrisy on their end:
In response to the Liberty Counsel letter, Acting Superintendent Daniel W. Smith said occasional use of the district’s email address for personal reasons is permitted if it does not interfere with a teacher’s responsibilities to the district.
But Smith said his understanding was that the teacher “is not including religious quotes in only her private correspondence, but also uses these religious quotes in her communications to students and their parents in her capacity as an LCPS employee. These communications are not private expression, but rather constitute school-sponsored speech bearing the ostensible endorsement of the School Division particularly when such emails reflect the ‘lcps.org’ email domain.”
Smith reiterated that the district’s stance concerns avoiding a violation of the First Amendment’s establishment clause, which bars government from favoring one religion over another.
“To be clear, LCPS’s determination is not based on any particular religious viewpoint,” he added, “and LCPS would take a consistent approach as it has here with respect to any religious expression incorporated in an LCPS employee’s email signature block of which it becomes aware.”
Smith’s point is solid. At no point are other teachers allowed to promote Satanism or atheism or Islam in their emails—or their political views or anything else that might disrupt the work they do—but this teacher doesn’t believe the same rules apply to Christians.
She’s so used to being in a position of privilege that she’s confusing neutrality with persecution.
It’s not clear if Liberty will file a lawsuit over this. As is typical with groups like theirs, they’re not really weighing the legal arguments here before deciding their next steps. This really boils down to how much they can fundraise off of the idea of persecution. Is it worth the loss they’d inevitably suffer in front of any competent judge?
It could be. Either way, for the sake of her students, let’s hope this unnamed employee doesn’t teacher anything concerning the law.
If you appreciated this article, please subscribe to my newsletter for free or share this post on Reddit, Facebook, or the godawful Bird app.