Texas company Little Pencil, LLC filed an appeal June 26 on an unfavorable decision regarding their controversial Jumbotron advertisement showing a tattooed Jesus.
The Christian marketing firm wanted to show the ad during the Lubbock Independent School District's (LISD) high school football games, but the district rejected the request. A federal judge ruled in favor of the district on May 29.
Little Pencil submitted a still image of a tattooed Jesus – arms outstretched and wearing a crown of thorns – to the district for approval on October 1, 2013. The tattoos read "Depressed and Stressed Out," "Outcast," "Hated," "Addicted," "Jealous," "Faithless," and other negative feeling and situations across Jesus' arms, stomach, and chest. The website address Jesustattoo.org also appeared on the proposed ad.
LISD rejected the ad because tattoos are against the district's policy, and because the ad "is clearly an advancement of a religious message and goes beyond general commercial advertising allowed on the jumbotron," according to court records.
Little Pencil argued that churches and missions have been allowed to advertise at LISD's Lowery Field, and that the field was a public forum protected under First Amendment rights.
U.S. District Judge Sam R. Cummings found that the field is a limited public forum, as evidenced by each advertisement having to be approved by the district. The court also found that the district's enforcement of its tattoo policy was reasonably applied, and that the ad "is properly characterized as a proselytizing message designed to advance Plaintiffs' 'sincerely held religious beliefs' to the viewer." This also distinguished Little Pencil's ad from other Christian advertisements that the district had approved, in the eyes of the court.
Little Pencil, represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), disagreed.
"When a public school opens up a venue for community advertising, it cannot single out religious messages that it doesn't like," ADF legal counsel Matt Sharp insisted. "The First Amendment protects freedom of speech for all Americans, regardless of their religious beliefs."
"Having a viewpoint that school officials don't favor isn't grounds for censorship."
On Jesustattoo.org, there is a video showing Jesus as a tattoo artist, transforming his clients' negative tattoos into positive ones. The negative tattoos are removed from them, and placed on Jesus' body. Little Pencil stated that the images "represent to the viewer how Jesus can transform a person's negative past into a positive future."