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Mural removed from Clovis school


September 12, 2017

Courtesy photo

This mural was removed from the Clovis High School Freshman Academy following a complaint regarding the Bible verse.

CLOVIS — A mural that included Scripture was removed from a Clovis school last month, prompting discussion on First Amendment rights in public spaces.

A letter dated Aug. 15 from the Freedom From Religion Foundation advised Clovis Municipal Schools Superintendent Jody Balch of a complaint received earlier that month from a parent who objected to a mural containing a Bible verse on a wall in the Clovis Freshman Academy.

Within hours of receiving that letter, Balch had the mural painted over.

"I'd seen the mural before and didn't pay a lot of attention to it," said Balch, referring to a painting dated 2013 and signed by art teacher Molly Miller, whom Balch said left the school soon after. "The Scripture was at the bottom of the mural. ... We understand there is a separation of church and state. We try to adhere to the regulations set forth by the state and feds as to the things that are appropriate and not appropriate."

The mural depicted a dove and an anchor, with a quote from Hebrews 6:19: "Hope anchors the soul."

That was enough to register as a violation of the Constitutional separation of church and state, according to the FFRF letter.

"Courts have continually held that school districts may not display religious messages or iconography in public schools," the letter read. "This display alienates those nonreligious students, families, teachers and members of the public whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the message being promoted by the school."

Balch said he erred on the side of caution when he decided to remove the illustration.

FFRF is a national watchdog organization headquartered in Wisconsin, with more than 29,000 members across the country, according to an FFRF news release.

Legal Fellow Christopher Line, an FFRF attorney who penned the complaint letter, said the organization is probably the "go-to" resource for state/church complaints, of which they receive over 5,000 per year.

Balch said there are no immediate plans to replace the mural, but he received a letter Monday signed by 13 representatives of the New Mexico Prayer Caucus, who wrote "to support (him) in protecting the rights of (his) school district."

"We understand that we cannot go backwards and rebuild the mural that was painted over but we will stand with you to protect the remainder," it continued.

The letter states a counterpoint to FFRF's claim, asserting "that the First Amendment's Free Exercise of Religion protects Americans who want to glorify God in word and actions."

"The (FFRF), unfortunately, failed to understand that such references (to Christianity), as well as other religious symbols that grace government buildings and monuments, are simply an acknowledgment of religion's rich influence on the development of this nation and its institutions."

The letter cited several examples of religious references in public spaces — on the Washington Monument, in the Library of Congress and outside the U.S. Supreme Court.

"We encourage you to reconsider, and certainly would support the District's reinstating the mural," the letter concluded.

Balch said Monday evening he had no current plans to reinstate the mural and was not aware of any other such installations at district schools that might prompt additional complaints.


Reader Comments

Steve Gershon writes:

That is one scared superintendent, Don't fall to the cry baby's of the world that are afraid of everything they don't agree with. This world is falling fast to cry baby's that just can't handle reality. The statue's. the flag, the rebel flag, a mural on a wall. Just shows how America is being destroyed from within. Next, we wouldn't be allowed to put Christmas decorations up in our towns (and I'm Jewish) don't matter cause it is life and life don't offend me.


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