LOUDOUN COUNTY, Va. (7News) — Loudoun County Public Schools Acting Superintendent is banning a teacher from using Bible verses in her email signature, 7News has learned.
“Simply put, the general inclusion of religious quotes in communications LCPS employees send while in their public capacities is not private expression and runs afoul of the Establishment Clause, and as such, bars LCPS, as a local governmental entity, from taking sides in religious disputes or favoring or disfavoring anyone based on religion or belief, or lack thereof,” LCPS Acting Superintendent Daniel Smith said in a letter to the lawyers helping the Loudoun County teacher in the dispute.
“To be clear, LCPS's determination is not based on any particular religious viewpoint, and LCPS would take a consistent approach as it has here with respect to any religious expression incorporated in an LCPS employee's email signature block of which it becomes aware," Smith's letter stated.
But The Liberty Counsel, who is assisting the Loudoun County teacher in her employment dispute, said the teacher is doing what she's seen other teachers do.
“When she went to work as a teacher for Loudoun County Public Schools, she noticed that many of the teachers at her school included quotes below their email signature,” the Liberty Counsel said on its website. “For example, one teacher uses a quote by socialist riot organizer Cesar Chavez ('Real education should consist of drawing the goodness and the best out of our students')."
"Another teacher’s signature line quoted Frederick Douglass ('It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men'). Other teachers also include simple motivational quotes such as 'Have courage and be kind,' and others include small pictures under their signatures with an encouraging or inspiring message," the Liberty Counsel continued.
The Liberty Counsel added the teacher “decided to add her own personal “flair” to her signature line, adding, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it. Prov. 22:6.”
“We get calls from educators and people involved in the public school system all the time who are facing various kinds of religious discrimination,” said Roger Gannam, Assistant Vice President of Legal Affairs for Liberty Counsel. “This teacher contacted us because in a school district where teachers are allowed to literally write whatever they want, as part of their email signature block, she was told she couldn't include a Bible verse because it was religious. So, our involvement is to help educate the school district that they can't open up an email signature block for private speech or for the teacher’s personal speech, but then exclude anything that's religious. That's really the definition of unconstitutional religious discrimination. The school district can have whatever policy it wants. But as long as it's going to let any teachers include private speech in their emails, that has to let teachers have religious speech in their emails.”
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The Liberty Counsel acknowledged the teacher used the Bible verse John 3:16 in her email signature.
The Bible verse John 3:16 says, 'For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.' NIV
Liberty Counsel said they issued a demand letter to the Loudoun County superintendent on the teacher’s behalf.
“The directive from LCPS to Cindy [the teacher] ordering the removal of the Bible verse from her email signature block, based solely on its perceived religious nature, violates the First Amendment,” the Liberty Counsel's website stated. “The First Amendment requires that the school district may not discriminate against the teacher’s private religious expression. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court and various federal courts have confirmed that organizations and individuals holding a religious viewpoint may not be subject to discrimination or censorship based on that viewpoint.”
Gannam said he believes LCPS has shown hostility towards teachers who use religious speech.
“I think in this specific instance, yes, there is a hostility towards religious speech, religious words shown by the school district,” said Gannam. “That doesn't mean that all the people in Loudoun County feel that way or even that most of the employees of the school district feel that way. We simply don't know. But we do know that the [Loudoun County Public Schools] leadership has shown hostility towards Christianity - that is unnecessary and it's certainly not compelled by the law.”
Gannam said the teacher is still employed by Loudoun County Public Schools and she has not yet decided if she will take legal action.
“She's still employed, whether she thinks legal action will be totally up to her,” said Gannam. “That's a decision for her to make down the road. For now, though, she is still being discriminated against and that's the important thing that we hope to help her resolve.”
“While LCPS currently permits its employees to personalize their LCPS email signature blocks, as a public employer, LCPS has an interest in regulating the speech of its employees, particularly as such expressed speech imputes to LCPS 's general endorsement thereof,” LCPS’s Acting Superintendent responded. "To that end, Policy 7566 authorizes, and calls for, the Superintendent's established procedures containing the appropriate 'uses, ethics and protocols for use of technology,' which are memorialized in LCPS Regulation 7566.”
Loudoun County Public School permits teachers to personalize their email signature blocks to include their preferred pronouns and other motivational quotes.
7News Nick Minock spoke to Gannam about why they aren't naming the teacher.
"In 2023, people are subjected to social media attacks, doxing, and things like that all the time," Gannam said. "And even if the vast majority of people wouldn't think to do something like that to a teacher, it only takes a few who can really, who can really put her in fear or,l even put pressure on the school district to get rid of her. We've seen this sort of thing happen to people who express certain beliefs that are unpopular in certain areas. And so we want to protect her from that as much as possible. The general rule is when you file a lawsuit, you have to identify yourself and she's not at that point yet. And so will continue to try to protect her retaliation from other parts of the community until we can get this result.”