High school student sues over ban on religious imagery in artwork

WISCONSIN -- Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed a federal lawsuit Friday on behalf of a Tomah High School student -- referred to as A.P. -- who was given an F and two detentions for including a Bible reference in his artwork.

According to the complaint, the student's art teacher, Julie Millin, told A.P. to remove the words "JOHN 3:16. A sign of love" because of comments from other students. She later showed A.P. a document students are required to sign at the beginning of the semester, which prohibits them from including "blood, violence, sexual connotations, [or] religious beliefs" in their artwork.

"Christian students shouldn't be penalized for expressing their beliefs," attorney David Cortman said in an ADF press release. "It is unconstitutional for the school to punish students simply because they choose to exercise their First Amendment rights."

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, also says school officials violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment by not approving A.P.'s drawing while allowing other student artwork that includes Hindu, Greek, Buddhist and demonic depictions.

Greg Gaarder, business manager for the Tomah Area School District, said the school has been in contact with its legal counsel but has yet to receive anything official regarding a lawsuit.

"At this point in time there really isn't anything to comment on," Gaarder said.

In addition to asking the court to restrain district officials from violating A.P.'s First Amendment rights, the complaint asks the court to decide the constitutionality of the district's religious expression policy, give A.P. $1 in nominal damages and order the district to remove all references in the student's record to the discipline related to the incident.

Neither Cortman nor his co-counsel returned SPLC's call by Tuesday afternoon.

news, Tomah High School, Wisconsin

More Information

A.P. v. Tomah Area Sch. Dist., No. 08-176 (W.D. Wis. filed Mar. 28, 2008).