Hood v. Medford Township Board of Education
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In 1996 a first-grade teacher in Medford Township, New Jersey asked her students to select a story from a favorite book to read aloud in class. Zachary Hood brought his Beginner’s Bible so he could read “A Big Family,” a story in which two brothers, Jacob and Esau, reunite. The teacher refused to allow Zachary to read aloud the story he selected because she thought Zach’s religious speech should be banned from the classroom.
When the school board defended the teacher’s discrimination and censorship, Zachary’s mother Carol filed suit against the Medford Township Board of Education charging the school with violating Zachary’s First Amendment rights. After a federal district court sided with the Board of Education and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision, Becket took over and obtained a rehearing. In February 2000, the full Third Circuit heard arguments in the appeal, and several months later a sharply divided court issued a split 6-6 decision, thereby affirming the district court’s ruling against Zachary’s right to read his Beginner’s Bible.
When the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, Becket continued pursing Zachary’s lawsuit against the Board of Education on a related claim (a Thanksgiving poster Zachary had made) that had become part of the suit. In November 2002, the Township agreed to settle the case and pay an award to Zachary and his mother.
In response to our lawsuit, the U.S. Department of Education firmly defended students’ First Amendment rights where the courts would not, issuing official guidance in February 2003 stating that “students may express their beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions.” At Becket, they’re now known as “Zach’s Rules.”