Texas School District Shuts Door on Jesus Tattoo Ad Campaign

By Jeremy Tedesco

Recently, Alliance Defending Freedom filed a federal lawsuit against Lubbock Independent School District over its denial of a religious advertisement our client sought to display on the jumbotron at the district’s  football stadium.  Here is the still image ad, which our client asked to be displayed twice a game for 15 second intervals:


Provocative, no?  Well, that’s the point.  The ad would be far less effective if it contained a traditional depiction of Christ.  The most effective speech is often the most provocative.

Our client felt called to use his God-given talents to create a marketing concept that communicates the Bible’s teachings in a provocative manner that is compelling to non-Christians.  As part of this campaign, he produced a video that encapsulates the message that a relationship with Christ will transform your life:


As you can see, the video uses a tattoo allegory to visually depict what the Bible says: Jesus took our sins upon His body when He was nailed to the Cross.  Indeed, the only reason we are not covered with our own iniquity is because God removed it and fulfilled the law that was against us by sacrificing His guiltless Son on the Cross.

After the District denied the ad, we sent a letter informing it that the denial violated our client’s rights and asking that the ad be approved.  In its response, the District said nothing about tattoos, focusing instead solely on the religious nature of the advertisement.  In fact, after the District initially denied the ad, our client offered to resubmit it without the tattoos.  But the district stood firm in its denial because of the ad’s religious message, claiming that the Establishment Clause, i.e., the so-called “separation of church and state,” prohibited a religious ad from being displayed on the jumbotron.

We filed this case because the District singled out and excluded religious expression from the many other types of speech it allowed.  In essence, the ad was denied because of the religious viewpoint of our client, while other viewpoints were welcome.  This type of treatment of religious speech violates the right to free speech protected by the First Amendment.

The case also involves the important question of whether the Establishment Clause justifies the exclusion of religious speech from public school campuses, a common claim raised by public schools  in these types of cases.  Demonstrating that our client’s ad was singled out for unfair treatment, and that the Constitution protects religious viewpoints, rather than justifies their exclusion, will set important precedent for religious speech at Lubbock ISD and at other school districts in Texas and throughout the country.

One final, critical point: Some in the Christian community will likely find the content or approach of the Jesus Tattoo ad troubling.  But the First Amendment does not allow the government to restrict speech based on “offense.”  If that were so, merely sharing one’s faith in public might be banned because some will be “offended.”

The bottom line is this:  Being offended is never a reason to censor speech.  Christians should understand this more than most, as it is the public expression of our Christian faith—at school, at work, on a public street or sidewalk, and elsewhere—that is all too often labeled “offensive” and censored.  It is therefore vital that we defend what may be viewed as “offensive” speech; this freedom ensures our right to proclaim the Gospel despite the hearer’s reaction.

After all, Jesus taught that the Gospel is offensive and that men will hate us because of our relationship with Him.  (Matt. 10:22).

Author: Alliance Defending Freedom