A federal judge has ordered a public high school to return bricks inscribed with Christian messages to a walkway, concluding their removal violated the free speech rights of the people who paid for them.

U.S. District Judge Norman Mordue ruled the bricks, with engravings such as "Jesus Saves" and "Jesus Christ The Only Way!" did not constitute an endorsement of religious views by the Mexico Academy, a high school in upstate New York. The bricks containing such engravings were the only ones removed, while others also referred to God and some commemorated churches.

The school "engaged in viewpoint discrimination" when it removed the bricks, Mordue wrote, adding that the bricks in question were just nine of 1,736 in the walkway.

The dispute arose after the school's class of 1999 sold bricks that could be inscribed with personal messages for $30 each as a fundraiser in Mexico, a village 30 miles north of Syracuse.

District officials removed them in 2000 after receiving complaints that the evangelical messages constituted an endorsement of Christianity.

Two men whose bricks were removed filed the lawsuit, claiming their rights to free speech and freedom of religion had been violated.

The plaintiffs' attorney, Thomas Marcelle, said the decision means the school district "can't pick and choose which religious expression goes in the walkway."

The district's attorney, Frank Miller, said the school board was being threatened with lawsuits in 2000 because of the bricks. "It was not something the board did with any kind of animus with any groups," he said.