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Church State Issues

Student ordered to remove Jesus custom on "fictional character day"???

Apr 27, 2012

Arizona Republic

While the article says the student voluntarily removed his Jesus costume, I suspect he was coerced into removing it by school officials.

If we are really going to have "separation of church and state" students should be able to state their views that the Jesus God is a myth without being punished by government officials.


Jeff Shott or Jeff Schott dresses up as Jesus on 'fictional character day' at Summit High School in Tennesse

Student dressed as Jesus wins atheist award

by Maria Giordano - Apr. 26, 2012 05:49 PM

Tennessean

SPRING HILL, Tenn. -- A Tennessee high school student has been awarded a $1,000 scholarship by an atheist group for dressing like Jesus Christ on the school's "fictional character day."

Jeff Shott, a sophomore at Summit High School, was not disciplined for his action back in January, but Principal Charles Farmer did advise him that if the costume caused a distraction during the day he would have to remove it. Shott voluntarily removed his robes and sash, a costume that included a hammer and nail.

But Shott's pluck was not overlooked by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the organization, located in Madison, Wis., said Shott exhibited "spunk and a light touch with his actions."

"We wanted to encourage him, and we know the cost of higher education. This is just a small stipend toward that," Gaylor said. Shott is the first to receive the Paul Gaylor Memorial Student Activist scholarship, named for Annie Laurie Gaylor's father, who recently passed away, she said.

The foundation, established in 1978, promotes the separation of state and church, and maintains a legal staff.

In the foundation's account of what happened, Shott was approached by Farmer, assistant principal Sarah Lamb and a school resource officer about his costume, who said they wished he were dressed like Zeus, a Greek mythological deity.

"We understand the student felt he should remove the costume to avoid problems with school administrators," said Rebecca Markert, a Freedom From Religion Foundation staff attorney.

Gaylor said the student had contacted the organization, and in turn, they sent a letter to Director of Schools Mike Looney calling the costuming incident a violation of the student's constitutional rights protected under the First Amendment. In addition, they questioned a classroom discussion where a physical science teacher at the school had said she believed men and women came from Adam and Eve.

Looney said the district delegates responsibility to the principal and in this case he supports Farmer's actions in having the discussion with Shott.

He referred to recently signed legislation in Tennessee known as the saggy pants bill, which prohibits students from exposing "underwear or body parts in an indecent manner that disrupts the learning environment."

"We're not trying to tell him what to believe or not believe. What we are saying is he's not allowed to create a distraction," Looney said.

Ken Paulson, president and chief executive officer of the First Amendment Center in Nashville, echoed Looney's comments, explaining students have First Amendment rights like anyone else.

But the U.S. Supreme Court has carved out guidelines that give public school officials the right to limit free expression when it poses a threat of substantial disruption to education.

Paulson said it was appropriate for the administrators to approach the incident the way they did rather than turning it into a controversy.

"You apply that ruling to this case, there is no question that a student wearing a Jesus costume and describing him as fictional character has a significant potential for disrupting school activities €1/8 under the circumstances, the school had a right to remove the costume," he said.

Shott is not the first student to receive an award from the organization.

Last year, a student from Ohio who dressed as Jesus Christ for a similar costume day and was disciplined also received an award, Gaylor said.


Source

Atheist group honors TN student who portrayed Jesus as fictional

Freedom From Religion Foundation gives scholarship for Jesus outfit

4:35 AM, Apr. 27, 2012

Written by Maria Giordano

The Tennessean

Summit High School sophomore Jeff Shott has been awarded a $1,000 scholarship for dressing like Jesus Christ on fictional character day.

The Spring Hill student was not disciplined for his action back in January, but Summit High Principal Charles Farmer did advise him that if the costume caused distraction during the day that he would have to remove it, school officials say.

Shott voluntarily removed his robes and sash, a costume that included a hammer and nail.

“Both principals said they were worried my costume would spark religious debates in every class and take up large amounts of time. I was sternly warned that if even one teacher reported the slightest disruption, I would have to take off my costume. Then and there, I decided to take it off,” Shott wrote in a letter to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national organization devoted to promoting the separation of state and church. The group ended up awarding him a scholarship.

Foundation Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said Shott exhibited spunk and a light touch with his actions.

“We wanted to encourage him, and we know the cost of higher education. This is just a small stipend towards that,” Gaylor said. Shott is the first to receive the $1,000 Paul Gaylor Memorial Student Activist scholarship named for Annie Laurie Gaylor’s father, who recently passed away, she said. Group calls incident violation of rights

Gaylor said that after Schott contacted the organization, it sent a letter to Director of Schools Mike Looney calling the costume incident a violation of the student’s constitutional rights protected under the First Amendment.

In addition, organization officials questioned a classroom discussion reported to them by Shott in which a physical science teacher at the school said she believed men and women came from Adam and Eve rather than evolution.

In the foundation’s account of what happened on fictional character day, Shott was approached by Farmer, Assistant Principal Sarah Lamb and a school resource officer. They questioned him about his costume and said they had wished that he were dressed like Zeus, a Greek mythological deity.

“We understand the student felt he should remove the costume to avoid problems with school administrators,” said Rebecca Markert, a staff attorney with the Foundation.

Schools Director Looney said the district delegates responsibility to the principal, and in this case he supports Farmer’s actions in discussing the costume with Shott. He referred to the recently signed “saggy pants” law, which prohibits students from exposing “underwear or body parts in an indecent manner that disrupts the learning environment.”

“We’re not trying to tell him what to believe or not believe. What we are saying is he’s not allowed to create a distraction,” Looney said. Right can be limited

Ken Paulson, president and chief executive officer of the First Amendment Center in Nashville, echoed Looney’s comments, explaining that students have First Amendment right like anyone else.

But the U.S. Supreme Court has carved out guidelines giving public school officials the right to limit free expression when it poses a threat of substantial disruption to education.

“You apply that ruling to this case, there is no question that a student wearing a Jesus costume and describing him as fictional character has a significant potential for disrupting school activities. Under the circumstances, the school had a right to remove the costume,” Paulson said.

What’s more important, he said, is that administrators actually had a conversation with the student and shared their concerns. In time the student decided to take off his costume anyway, he said. “In similar situations, students get kicked out of school. This is a much better approach in a controversial situation.”

Shott is not the first to receive an award from the foundation. Last year, the organization — which claims about 18,000 members nationally, 200 from Tennessee — handed out six student activism awards. One of them went to a student who protested the Ten Commandments in her public high school, and another to a boy in Ohio who also dressed like Jesus Christ, and was disciplined, Gaylor said.

She added that the group is seeing an upswing in activism coming out of Tennessee, and it is seeing many violations. Letters have been sent to school superintendents throughout the state informing them of the laws about student-led prayer, football prayer and graduation prayer, she said.

Contact Maria Giordano at 615-771-5425 or mgiordano@tennessean.com

Follow on Twitter.com @MariaGiordano