(June 6, 2023 – Santa Barbara, California) A Santa Barbara, California, school has backed down after angering parents and students by including a blasphemous, anti-Catholic photograph in the curriculum of a required course for its International Baccalaureate Diploma. Thomas More Society attorneys have received a response from a lawyer for Santa Barbara Unified School District confirming that the profane “image will not be used in the Theory of Knowledge curriculum going forward” at Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta, California.
“The school’s deliberate use of a despicable image in a course required for an International Baccalaureate Diploma shows extremely poor judgement,” explained Paul Jonna, Thomas More Society Special Counsel and partner at LiMandri & Jonna LLP. “Even more importantly, it is an act of unconstitutional anti-Catholic, anti-Christian bigotry.”
The offensive photograph, which depicts a Catholic crucifix immersed in a vat of urine, created widespread public outrage in 1987 when it became known that it was created under a grant provided by the taxpayer-funded National Endowment for the Arts. The public outrage ultimately resulted in Congress severely limiting the funding of the NEA.
A May 9, 2023, demand letter from Thomas More Society Special Counsel attorneys to the Santa Barbara Unified School District and its board of education president initially elicited a noncommittal response from the district’s legal counsel, stating that it was their “understanding” that the same instructor would not be teaching the same class in the fall, nor would the image be used in the curriculum that semester. That May 22, 2023, response from the district’s lawyer did not verify that the use of the image would be permanently discontinued and tossed aside the demand letter’s statement that the school was creating an illegal hostile environment for Christian or Catholic students.
The public comment portion of a Santa Barbara Unified School District school board meeting on May 23, 2023 featured overwhelming concern from parents and students over the inclusion of the sacrilegious image in the Dos Pueblos High School curriculum. The high school had reneged on the principal's original promise to remove the offending image from the course material. The threat of a lawsuit from two separate parents, in the case that the school did not honor the initial decision to scrub the profane photograph from its program, drew resounding applause from those in attendance.
“Repeated requests for clarification finally resulted in a concession that the offending photograph would no longer be used in the Dos Pueblos High School course,” shared Jeffrey Trissell, Thomas More Society Special Counsel and LiMandri & Jonna LLP attorney. Trissell received a follow-up letter dated May 24, 2023—the day after the school board meeting—from a different lawyer representing the school district, unequivocally confirming the image’s discontinuation in the class.
According to John Hayward, a rising senior at Dos Pueblos High School, the student represented by the Thomas More Society, “Having this sacrilege taken down from a school setting means a lot to all those who helped call for its removal in a time when hate towards the Catholic faith is widespread. I greatly thank the Thomas More Society and all those who helped by signing our petition and/or attending the Santa Barbara School District’s board meeting. This was a small, yet significant, victory for Our Lord. Prior to contacting the Thomas More Society, it was a merely symbolic movement. Until we had the weight of a legal letter, our concerns would have been, and indeed were, brushed off by administrators who proudly defended their blasphemous curriculum as some sort of ‘human right.’”
Read the May 9 demand letter sent by Thomas More Society attorneys to Wendy Sims-Moten, President of the Board, Santa Barbara Unified School District here.
View the public comment section of the May 23 Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Education Meeting here.