Man claims school district violated his First Amendment right to free speech
A small business owner is suing the Lubbock Independent School District claiming they violated his constitutional rights by refusing to allow him to display a promotional image featuring a tattooed Jesus during high school football games.
David Miller’s Little Pencil LLC promotes the Christian faith and God through an alternative vision of Christ, a modernized version in which the Holy One is all tatted up. One depiction of His Holiness bearing ink features words such as “outcast,” “addicted,” “jealous,” hated,” and “faithless.”
Miller, a Vice Chancellor of Research and Commercialization with the Texas Tech University System from 2007-2011, says his company devised “a new way to share the Bible’s teachings through contemporary marketing methods.”
“Mr. Miller is an adherent of the Christian faith and is called by God to share his religious views with as many people as possible,” the lawsuit obtained by Courthouse News reportedly states.
The best way to do this, Miller reasoned, would be to advertise using the electronic digital billboard at PlainsCapital Park-Lowrey Field.
District officials initially refused the idea citing a policy that bans tattoos. According to the suit, however, there was no policy banning tattoos, and an offer of a reworked image featuring a tattoo-less Jesus was also denied.
The district also purportedly refused Miller’s last attempt to access the billboard on the grounds that it “is prohibited from allowing religious advertisement with the use of government property based on the Establishment Clause.” However, other religious organizations, including some non-school, non-religious organizations, have been observed at the disputed site.
“This unequal treatment of plaintiffs’ religious expression,” Miller’s suit contends, “is a content-based restriction in an otherwise open forum.”
“The district’s denial of plaintiffs’ religious advertisement is also unlawful viewpoint discrimination because it solicits advertisements from religious groups, like churches, and has permitted other religious advertisers… to access the forum and engage in religious expression, yet has barred plaintiffs from doing the same.”
“Christians should not be prevented from expressing their beliefs in public venues,” Legal Counsel Matt Sharp with the Alliance Defending Freedom stated. “We hope that Lubbock Independent School District will revise its policy so that everyone can exercise their constitutionally protected freedoms.”
ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco also held that the school was infringing on Miller’s First Amendment.
“No one deserves to be silenced simply for having a viewpoint that school officials don’t favor,” argued Tedesco. “When a school creates an opportunity for community advertising, it cannot single out religious messages for censorship. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech for all people, regardless of their religious or political beliefs.”
“Miller is reportedly seeking injunctive and declaratory relief for violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments,” reports Courthouse News.
What do you think? Does Mr. Miller have a solid case that his First Amendment was infringed upon? Or is the school free to deny ad space to whomever it pleases, for whatever reason it wants? Is this an inventive new approach to proselytizing Christianity? Or are Miller’s attempts to reinvent and rebrand Jesus merely a blasphemous mockery of the Lord and Savior? Sound off below.