Teacher Files Lawsuit Over religious Freedom

January 11, 2013 Updated Jan 11, 2013 at 12:52 AM EDT

By Lou Chilelli

...
January 11, 2013 Updated Jan 11, 2013 at 12:52 AM EDT

TOWN OF CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WKBW)

There is a dispute over religious rights in Cheektowaga. A Cheektowaga Central School District worker says the district is restricting her right to religious free speech. An anonymous complaint by a student has now lead the teacher to file a lawsuit against a school district. Lawyers for the American Freedom Law Center filed a civil rights lawsuit in Federal Court on behalf of Joelle Silver, a high school science teacher.

"In June of this past year, the school district gave her a "counseling letter" which prohibited her from displaying anything in her classroom that had any religious content or had any religious nature to it what so ever," said Robert J. Muise, a lawyer and one of the founders of the American Freedom Law Center.

The Cheektowaga Central School District was reacting to a student's complaint they received through the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The foundation's letter threatened their own lawsuit, if the teacher did not remove religious materials from her classroom. "We handed it over to our school attorney, who in turn, went to our insurance company and their council...their council went to a constitutional expert. He basically came back to us and said that we feel it is best that you need to take certain action," said school district Superintendent Dennis Kane.

That action was a counseling letter ordering Silver to remove the religious items from her classroom. "The Supreme Court has long said that neither teachers nor students shed their constitutional rights at the school house gate. And, certainly these restrictions violate that fundamental principal. She is a devout Christian. She does not cease being a Christian because she works for the government,' Muise added.

"We were told by legal advise that these things were a violation of church and state and as a public entity and as public officials we have to comply with the law. We have a duty to correct," Kane explained. The superintendent limited his comments because of the ongoing legal matter and because he sees this as a personnel issue. The district has not yet seen a copy of the lawsuit. Silver continues to teach high school science.