Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Teaching School Administrators the Law

You know the religious right is going to go ballistic about this. In Cupertino, California, the principal has apparently barred a teacher from handing out a copy of the Declaration of Independence to his students. Now, I suspect that this teacher is one of those pious crusaders who wants to play up the “Christian nation” angle to his students and mistakenly thinks that the Declaration supports that idea. But even if that’s the case, barring him from handing out perhaps the most important document in American history to his students is not only stupid, but destined to feed into the very thing she’s trying to prevent. As usual, Timothy Sandefur nails this one on the head:

I’ve frequently said that government school officials are woefully ignorant about the First Amendment, and that their zealotry allows Christian conservatives to portray themselves as a persecuted minority–something they most certainly are not; but that image is very politically useful to them.

And they will no doubt exploit that to the hilt here. There will be howls of outrage about “anti-Christian persecution” and “liberals trying to cover up the truth of our nation’s Christian heritage”. And it will be all because this principal is clueless about the law. I’ll be thrilled to find out the claims in the teacher’s lawsuit aren’t true, but at this point I’m inclined to believe that they are.

Comments

  1. #1 William Burns
    November 25, 2004
  2. #2 raj
    November 26, 2004

    It is silliness like this that will be the death of public education.

    With reference to the article cited by William Burns, the teacher does not have a First Amendment right, while teaching, to proselytize to a captive audience, his students. In his capacity as teacher, he is an agent of the school district, and will carry out the district’s directives. If he, in his free time, wants to preach, on a street corner or elsewhere, he is certainly free to do so, but not while he is teaching.

  3. #3 Ed Darrell
    November 26, 2004

    The headline and lead of the story would be more accurate were they to say that the teacher is trying to pass out documents which, the teacher claims, show the U.S. has an established religion — or at least, documents that show the U.S. was established with a religious bias.

    Of course, the Declaration of Independence doesn’t say that. It’s just one of many documents the teacher would have to use, and the teacher would have to avoid passing out the Virginia Bill of Rights, all the charters of all the colonies, the Northwest Ordinances, the Constitution, and the U.S. Bill of Rights.

    Why isn’t the headline “Incompetent Teacher Refuses to Teach the First Amendment?”

    The propagandists from the Dark Side got their press release out first.

    Does Sandefur think it will be the end of education to insist that teachers teach what they have sworn an oath to teach? Odd. I would think that keeping one’s word is a high concept that teachers should adhere to.

  4. #4 Ed Brayton
    November 26, 2004

    It really depends on what the details are. It certainly sounds to me like this is a crusading teacher who thinks his job is to preach to 5th graders. But even if that is the case, if he was forbidden to hand out copies of the Declaration of Independence, that’s absurd. There are materials that are certainly inappropriate for a 5th grade class, but that’s not one of them. But it also needs to be remembered that this is not about anyone’s rights being violated, so I don’t know what the basis for a court case might be. The only issue is good pedagogical policy, not a violation of rights.

  5. #5 flatlander100
    November 26, 2004

    I’d be just a little cautious here until the facts of the matter are better known. It is fairly easy to play “gotcha!” in matters like this and that may have been what the teacher had in mind. For example: do up a course “packet” for students purporting to show that US was founded as a Christian nation, include in that packet the D of I, be banned from distributing the packet and then issue a press release claiming you have been banned from distribution the D of I to your students. From all accounts I’ve seen so far, I’m not really sure yet what happened with respect to what got distributed in what form and context and what got banned.

  6. #6 Ed Brayton
    November 26, 2004

    flatlander-

    Yes, that is entirely possible. I hope that’s the case.

  7. #7 Sarah Berel-harrop
    November 26, 2004

    The news article says the teacher was handing out excerpts of the documents. The declaration of independence, I know, is short enough that it is not at all cumbersome to a student to read the whole thing. I wonder, is he handing out a Wallbuilders course pack that has Christian Nation and selected quotes (David Barton’s material is notoriously out of context).

  8. #8 Ed Brayton
    November 27, 2004

    I wonder, is he handing out a Wallbuilders course pack that has Christian Nation and selected quotes (David Barton’s material is notoriously out of context).

    Could very well be, Sarah. I’ve debunked many of Barton’s claims on this blog.

  9. #9 Liz Ditz
    November 27, 2004

    The school in question is about 52% “Asian” (which includes Indians) Without doing a drive-by, can’t say.

    The principal started close monitoring of the teacher’s work after a parent complained.

    I’m betting that the complaining parent was not a Christian and didn’t like having his or her kid indoctrinated.

    And pray tell how defending this suit (from the moneybags at the ADF) will impact classroom instructional funds?

  10. #10 Reed A. Cartwright
    November 27, 2004

    From what I read, he was not handing out the DoI, but rather experpts of it along with other carefully chosen experpts. I bet we can guess what type of experpts those were.

  11. #11 Sarah Berel-Harrop
    November 28, 2004

    The complaint is here, http://www.alliancedefensefund.org/media/WilliamsvCupertinoComplaint.pdf .

    The complaint specifically states that he’s trying to hand out “excerpts” of the D of I. I find that to be highly inappropriate, whatever the content of the excerpts because I think they should provide the entire thing – it’s tough going for a fifth grader but not impossible.

    Anyway, when the news reports and the ADF attorney state that the teacher was simply trying to show the students the D of I it is an untruth (and your article also is wrong) based on the statement of facts in the complaint. And it is an inflammatory deception because the D of I is probably the most revered founding document.

  12. #12 Ed Brayton
    November 28, 2004

    Anyway, when the news reports and the ADF attorney state that the teacher was simply trying to show the students the D of I it is an untruth (and your article also is wrong) based on the statement of facts in the complaint. And it is an inflammatory deception because the D of I is probably the most revered founding document.

    Well, I did say that I’ll be glad to find out that they’re false and I hope they are. It is looking more and more like that is the case, and I plan to post an update today. Thanks for pointing to this link.

  13. #13 Javan
    July 17, 2005

    What should have happened here instead of backbiting and an attempt by someone who did not get the whole story to legislate by administrative fiat, is that the parents who had an issue TALKED to the teacher. Gee, what a concept! They should have sat down until they came to a mutually agreeable solution and called in an uninvolved third party to mediate if they could not come to an agreement. Now everyone looks like an idiot and all because people had to backbite and try to impose their will instead of negotiating. Yes, our founders were relgious men and the concepts of the Declaration of Independence are Biblical (yes, Biblical, Locke and Blackstone were born again Christians, and the Bible long precedes them and 18th century thinkers) You cannot really understand it without understanding that background. It doesn’t hurt anyone to know that—except people who are militantly anti-religion, which is a religion in itself. Obviously, Easter is thought of as a Christian holiday (it would actually be Resurrection Day, as Easter itself is a pagan British fertility festival.) The assignments are obviously focused on Christianity since Easter is a “Chrisitian” holiday. If he covered other holidays similarly (and obviously we can’t do every single one) and this is a small part of the curriculum overall, people need to examine their attitudes, mindsets and reactionary actions.

    This could have all been resolved simply and graciously.

  14. #14 Ed Brayton
    July 17, 2005

    Javan-

    Boy, you really reached back into the distant past to respond to this post. You should have looked at the many other posts I made on this subject subsequent to this one. It turns out that the teacher’s accusations were ridiculous and false. The Declaration of Independence was not banned from his classroom or any classroom in that school district. Mr. Williams had a long history of handing out “supplemental” material containing fraudulent alleged quotes and even entirely fictional documents, and multiple complaints from parents that he couldn’t stop talking about his religious faith even during math class. The school was right. The teacher was wrong. And he is going to lose his lawsuit very badly.