Tennessee High School Student Jeff Shott Dons Jesus Costume for “Fictional Character Day”; Gets $1,000 FFRF Scholarship
The Tennessean reports that Summit High School sophomore Jeff Shott was awarded the scholarship from the Freedom from Religion Foundation, an 18,000-member organization dedicated to the separation of church and state.
Summit High Principal Charles Farmer reportedly advised Shott that he would have to remove his Jesus costume, which consisted of robes, a sash and hammer and nail props, if it caused any distraction in his classes. Shott then voluntarily removed the costume.
“Both principals said they were worried my costume would spark religious debates in every class and take up large amounts of time. I was sternly warned that if even one teacher reported the slightest disruption, I would have to take off my costume. Then and there, I decided to take it off,” Shott wrote in a letter to the FFRF.
Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF Co-President, explained her group’s decision to award Shott with a scholarship:
“We wanted to encourage him, and we know the cost of higher education. This is just a small stipend towards that.”
Shott is the first student to receive the $1,000 Paul Gaylor Memorial Student Activist Scholarship, named after Annie’s recently-deceased father.
Gaylor told The Tennessean that FFRF sent Director of Schools Mike Looney a letter in which the Jesus costume incident was called a violation of Shott’s First Amendment rights. FFRF additionally questioned a classroom discussion in which a science teacher allegedly claimed she believe in creationism, not the scientific theory of evolution.
FFRF also claims that the costume-wearing Shott was approached by Principal Farmer, Assistant Principal Sarah Lamb and a school resource officer, who questioned him about his attire and expressed their desire that he dressed as Zeus, the mythological Greek deity, instead of Jesus.
While Shott may indeed have First Amendment rights like anyone else, the US Supreme Court has ruled that public school officials can limit free speech and expression if it disrupts the education process.
“You apply that ruling to this case, there is no question that a student wearing a Jesus costume and describing him as fictional character has a significant potential for disrupting school activities. Under the circumstances, the school had a right to remove the costume,” Ken Paulson, president of the First Amendment Center in Nashville, told The Tennessean.
The Wisconsin-based FFRF has, in the past, awarded scholarships to other freethinking student activists, including one who protested the presence of the Ten Commandments in her public high school, as well as an Ohio student who was punished for dressing as Jesus.
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