WESLEY CHAPEL, Florida. – A teacher’s form of religious expression on school grounds is not appropriate for some staff. That involves her parking space which she personalized by painting a Bible verse on it, which Pasco County Schools say is no problem.
These 10 words are something Marina Gentilesco thinks shouldn’t be on school grounds.
“He said, Christ. I was surprised by that. I was very upset by that,” said Gentilesco, a Pasco County Schools employee.
The text is from the Bible verse Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”.
According to Pasco County Schools, a teacher painted the verse on her paid parking spot at Wiregrass Ranch High School.
Gentilesco – who is Jewish – says she passes by it every day on her way to school.
“My parents are Holocaust survivors and I would never try to convince anyone to change their faith. Jews were murdered for being Jews and Christians survived, and it just brought back memories what my parents went through,” Gentilesco said.
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Gentilesco approached the directors to express her concerns. She also contacted the Jewish Community Relations Council.
“A number of people may see this as an endorsement of a specific religion by a government entity and it becomes potentially volatile from the First Amendment Establishment Clause,” the chairman of the Council on Jewish Community Relations, said. Jonathan Ellis.
After reviewing the legality of it, Ellis – who is also a lawyer – says they concluded they could not force the school to remove the verse in part because it is not necessarily directly related to a pedagogical aspect intended for the students.
“Because the school gives teachers and students some level of freedom to decorate their own space or to individualize their own space, it doesn’t necessarily run into a violation of the Establishment Clause,” Ellis said.
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A district spokesperson emailed a statement to FOX 13 Thursday evening.
“At many of our schools, students and/or staff have the ability to personalize their specified parking space. There are no tax dollars involved and, as long as the image or message is not no bad taste, they are free to express themselves,” the statement read.
Regardless of the legality, Gentilesco says it makes her uncomfortable.
“It was just innocent and I think it was just out of ignorance that she didn’t realize it would be a personal affront to me,” Gentilesco said.