WFLA / YouTube

A high school in Pasco County, Florida, is dealing with controversy after a Jewish employee of the school filed a complaint against the public display of a Bible verse on a teacher’s paid parking spot. Per WFLA-TV, Marina Gentilesco, an employee of Pasco County Schools, walks by the parking spot daily with Philippians 4:13 written on it. Despite it being a fairly popular and well-known verse, Gentilesco stated, “It said, Christ. I was startled by it. I was very upset by it.” She also stated that it made her feel attacked. “I feel like it’s attacking me as a Jew. It brings me to the verge of tears because it brings me back to the 6 million that perished. Six million perished because of our faith — because we’re Jews.” Gentilesco noted her personal history with the Holocaust, saying, “My parents are Holocaust survivors, and I would never try to convince someone to change their faith. The Jews were murdered because they were Jews, and Christians survived, and it just brought back the memories of what my parents went through.” She felt the Bible verse did not belong on the state-funded property.

Gentilesco brought up her issue to the school and to the Jewish Community Relations Council to see about having the verse removed. However, lawyer and chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council, Jonathan Ellis, stated that it was unlikely the Bible verse violated the Constitution, saying, “Because the school is giving the teachers and the students a certain 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.” The district responded to Gentilesco’s complaints stating there are no violations because no tax dollars are used in the personalization of the spot. The district further emphasized the ability of its employees to personalize their spaces “…so long as the image or message is not in poor taste, they are free to express themselves.” “There is no proselytizing going on,” Pasco County Schools Public Information Officer Stephen Hegarty said. “It’s not compelling students to do anything one way or the other.” He added, “It has nothing to do with instruction. It’s just a teacher expressing themselves just like they might wear a crucifix on their shirt. Teachers and students are free to express themselves.” Gentilesco, however, is adamant that she still feels uncomfortable, saying, “This was just innocent, and I think it was just ignorance that she didn’t realize that this would be a personal affront to me.”

The controversy further highlights the tensions between public displays of faith on state-funded properties. In June, the Supreme Court handed down a decision that upheld football coach Joseph Kennedy’s post-game prayers on the field. A survey of Americans showed that a majority of Americans supported the Supreme Court’s decision. As Justice Neil Gorsuch stated in the 6-3 decision, “Respect for religious expressions is indispensable to life in a free and diverse Republic—whether those expressions take place in a sanctuary or on a field, and whether they manifest through the spoken word or a bowed head.”

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