Eastfield College is accused of suppressing the religious expression of students after a ceramics instructor compared the crucifix to a swastika and refused to allow students to create religious symbols.
"Unfortunately, not everyone has the Christmas spirit or even a basic understanding of religious freedom," Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel of Liberty Legal Institute, said in a statement. "The government cannot ban crosses and religious symbols."
The controversy involves retired auto worker Joe Mitchell and Eastfield Community College in Mesquite, TX. Since 2006 he has been enrolled in a non-credit ceramics class comprised mostly of retirees. During the spring class, Mitchell made a number of crosses for friends and fellow parishoners at his church, St. Bernard of Clairvaux Catholic Church.
That's when he ran into trouble. According to court documents obtained by FOX News Radio, a memorandum was sent to students forbidding them from creating any religious items including Christmas or Easter-related items.
"The making of such pieces at Eastfield College demeans the goals of the ceramic program at EFC," stated a memo written by James Watral, chair of the ceramic program.
Mitchell filed a complaint with the college, alleging they were discriminating against people of faith. The college apologized and offered an amended rule that prohibited replicas of religious items. But last fall, Mitchell ran afoul of the school once again when an instructor questioned whether he would be creating any religious-themed work.
Here's what happened next, according to the Liberty Legal Institute:
"Ms. Blackhurst then asked Mr. Mitchell if he considered a swastika offensive. He responded, 'Of course.' She then proceeded to compare the cross to a swastika. She stated that many individuals view the cross as an offensive symbol in the same way that many people are offended by swastikas, and that his crosses would therefore not be fired by the department."
"I felt humiliated and that my spirituality was being demeaned," Mitchell said in a written statement. "The whole point of art is to express who you are."
"It appears the Eastfield College art department has no room in the inn for artistic religious expression such as that of Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci; hopefully they will change their mind," said Hiram Sasser, director of litigation at Liberty Legal Institute.
College officials issued the following statement:
"Eastfield College's current ceramics policy tells students that they should not use symbols, icons or other "cookie cutter" images. The purpose of those references is to compel students to create original works that express their artistic perspectives through projects assigned by instructors. The college has never intended to circumvent expressions of religious or artistic freedom or violate any laws with regard to religious freedom. "
The Liberty Legal Institute has given the college until Jan. 23 to address the matter or else face a federal lawsuit.
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