Educators get a few seconds to make a decision, usually with other kids yelling and a fight breaking out across the hallway. Lawyers and judges have more time.
But even with the advantage of cool reflection, the levels of irony in this case are too thick to cut through.
Can a kid dress as Jesus about to be crucified, for Halloween? Is the costume religious? If so, is the school’s allowing it to be worn an impermissible endorsement of religion? Is the costume blasphemous? If so, would the school be sued if they didn’t ban it? Is the costume in good taste, compared to the kid dressed as a chainsaw serial-killer, or one of the phantasms from Nightmare on Elm Street?
How do 10-year-old kids always come up with these questions?
With the disclosure that what I have comes from a press release from the Alliance Defense Fund, which has its biases, I post the details of the case as we have them so far, below the fold.
Pa. school censors boy wearing Jesus costume during Halloween parade and party
Principal decreed that boy must remove his crown of thorns and suggested he pretend to be a “Roman emperor” instead
Wednesday, February 21, 2007, 11:12 AM (MST)
ADF Media Relations | 480-444-0020
PHILADELPHIA — Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund filed a complaint Tuesday on behalf of a 10-year-old boy who was prohibited by his school principal from wearing a Jesus costume for the school’s Halloween parade and party because the costume was religious.
“For the school principal to censor this young student at Halloween because he was dressed as Jesus is patently ridiculous. It’s yet another demonstration of just how hostile to Christianity public school officials have become,” said ADF Legal Counsel Matt Bowman. “It is unconstitutional to single out Christian students for censorship.”
School officials at Willow Hill Elementary School had required that students wear a costume at school on Halloween, or they would be isolated from the rest of the student body during the school’s parade and party. The 10-year-old student and his mother, out of Christian conviction, sought to avoid promoting Halloween and its pagan elements and determined that by wearing a Jesus costume the student could accomplish this goal while avoiding the compelled isolation imposed on those not wearing a costume.
But on Oct. 31, Willow Hill Principal Dr. Patricia Whitmire told the fourth-grade student’s mother that a Jesus costume would violate the school’s religion policy. Whitmire required that the young student remove his “crown of thorns” and not identify himself as Jesus.
“Our client’s teacher, perhaps missing the irony, suggested that he instead pretend to be a Roman emperor,” Bowman noted.
Willow Hill Elementary School is part of the Abington Township School District, where Halloween is celebrated districtwide. Permitted costumes worn by other children within the school district this past Halloween included those of devils, witches, and a skeleton covered with blood.
A copy of the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Eastern Pennsylvania in E.D.T. v. Abington Township School District can be read at www.telladf.org/UserDocs/EDTComplaint.pdf.
Abington Township School District was the battleground for a notable 1963 First Amendment controversy, Abington Township School District v. Schempp. That ruling declared school-sponsored Bible reading in public schools to be unconstitutional.
ADF is a legal alliance defending the right to hear and speak the Truth through strategy, training, funding, and litigation.
Tip of the old scrub brush to Rick Duncan, Welpton Professor, University of Nebraska Law School.