School District Says It Removed Religious Titles
for Mental Health Reasons

School officials indicated that to protect student’s mental health and keep the school from becoming a memorial, religious symbols on tiles painted by families after the Columbine High School shootings would be banned.

Their views were wrongly excluded while other religious-themed exhibits inside the schools were allowed, including a framed poster saying,” God wept over Columbine this day, April 20, 1999,” argued the families.

On January 22, 2002, the two sides filed 185 pages of appellate briefs with the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; and on February 1, 2002, oral arguments in the case were heard in its Denver courthouse.

A ruling in 2001 by U.S. District Judge Wiley Daniel, that school officials had violated the families’ First Amendment guarantee of free speech, was appealed by the school district.

The district was originally sued over what was known as the tile project, in which thousands of students, teachers, families, rescue workers and others in the Columbine Community were invited by the families of slain students Kelly Fleming and Danny Rohrbough to paint tiles for the school walls.

The tile project was created to help students “reclaim” their school after two Columbine seniors attacked it with guns and bombs, killing 12 students and a teacher, and wounding more than 20 other people before taking their own lives according to testimony from school officials.

However, when people showed up to paint tiles, school officials said they could not paint religious symbols, the name or initials of any slain students, other references to the shootings or the date of the attack.

In their appeals brief, school attorneys said, “Given the mental health issues faced by the returning students and the desire that Columbine High school be a school rather than a memorial, these guidelines and their enforcement were reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.”

However, school officials allowed numerous religious and non-religious memorials to be placed in the school after the shootings countered the families’ attorneys.

Included, was a plaque saying, “IN HONOR OF THOSE THAT LOST THEIR LIVES OR THOSE THAT HAD THEIR LIVES CHANGED FOREVER ON APRIL 20, 1999.”  Other commemorative plaques included a frame containing one slain student’s sports jersey.

(Karen Abbott, “Religious tiles moved for mental health, school districts says," Scripps Howard News Service, January 23, 2002)

 

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