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Wood v. Wood

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

February 11, 2019

CALEIGH WOOD, Plaintiff - Appellant,
v.
EVELYN ARNOLD; SHANNON MORRIS, Defendants - Appellees, and JOHN WOOD; MELISSA WOOD, on behalf of her minor child, C.W., Plaintiffs, OF EDUCATION OF CHARLES COUNTY; CHARLES COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS, Defendants, CHRISTIAN ACTION NETWORK, Amicus Supporting Appellant.

          Argued: December 11, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, at Greenbelt. George Jarrod Hazel, District Judge. (8:16-cv-00239-GJH)

         ARGUED:

          Kate Oliveri, THOMAS MORE LAW CENTER, Ann Arbor, Michigan, for Appellant.

          Andrew G. Scott, PESSIN KATZ LAW, P.A., Towson, Maryland, for Appellees.

         ON BRIEF:

          B. Tyler Brooks, Richard Thompson, THOMAS MORE LAW CENTER, Ann Arbor, Michigan, for Appellant.

          Edmund J. O'Meally, Lisa Y. Settles, PESSIN KATZ LAW, P.A., Towson, Maryland, for Appellees.

          David W.T. Carroll, CARROLL, UCKER & HEMMER LLC, Columbus, Ohio, for Amicus Curiae.

          Before KEENAN, WYNN, and HARRIS, Circuit Judges.

          BARBARA MILANO KEENAN, CIRCUIT JUDGE

         In this case, we consider whether two statements concerning Islamic beliefs, presented as part of a high school world history class, violated a student's First Amendment rights under either the Establishment Clause or the Free Speech Clause. The student, Caleigh Wood, contends that school officials Evelyn Arnold and Shannon Morris (the defendants) used the statements about Islam to endorse that religion over Christianity, and compelled Wood against her will to profess a belief in Islam.

         Upon our review, we conclude that the challenged coursework materials, viewed in the context in which they were presented, did not violate Wood's First Amendment rights, because they did not impermissibly endorse any religion and did not compel Wood to profess any belief. We therefore affirm the district court's judgment awarding summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

         I.

         During the 2014-2015 school year, Wood was an eleventh-grade student at La Plata High School, a public high school in Charles County, Maryland. Arnold was La Plata's principal, and Morris was employed as one of the school's vice-principals.

         As an eleventh-grade student, Wood was required to take a world history course, which was part of the school's social studies curriculum. The year-long course covered time periods from the year "1500 to the [p]resent." Among the topics covered in the course were the Renaissance and Reformation, the Enlightenment period, the Industrial Revolution, and World Wars I and II. The topics were divided into separate units, with each unit generally being taught over a period of between ten and twenty days.

         The smallest unit of the world history course, encompassing five days, was entitled "The Muslim World." The unit was "designed to explore, among other things, formation of Middle Eastern empires including the basic concepts of the Islamic faith and how it along with politics, culture, ...


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