Dispatches from the Creation Wars

If This is True, Fire the Principal

The ADF has filed suit against an elementary school in Pennsylvania that, if the allegations in the lawsuit are accurate, acted about as stupidly as is humanly possible. Here’s the local news story:

The complaint, filed in federal court Tuesday, says officials at Willow Hill Elementary School in Glenside told the boy Oct. 31 that he could not wear his faux crown of thorns or tell others he was dressed as Jesus.

The principal, Patricia Whitmire, told the boy’s mother that the costume violated a policy prohibiting the promotion of religion, according to the lawsuit. Whitmire suggested that the fourth-grader, whose costume also included a robe, identify himself as a Roman emperor, the suit states.

Now, I learned long ago not to trust ADF press releases. After all, this is the same group that put out the “Declaration of Independence Banned” press release about the Cupertino school district a couple years ago. But in that case, the school had told a teacher he couldn’t hand out a whole range of supplemental materials, one small portion of which included a quote from the Declaration, so there was a tiny kernel of truth there even if exaggerated out of all proportion.

In this case, it’s much more a simple either/or; either the principal told him he couldn’t wear the costume or she didn’t. And I’d be surprised if the ADF would file a complaint with that claim in it that wasn’t true. And if it’s true, frankly, this principal should be fired. There are some close calls when it comes to church/state questions and the public schools, but this isn’t one of them. If you’re having kids dress up for halloween, you can’t forbid them dressing up as religious figures. This isn’t a close call and it doesn’t require a law degree; it’s basic common sense. If you can’t get that one right, you’ve got no business running a school.


  1. #1 Russell
    February 23, 2007

    It really is mind-boggling. I wonder if the principal wasn’t so much concerned about promoting religion, as she was offended by the costume. Either way, it was a bad decision.

  2. #2 Ompus
    February 23, 2007

    I agree that a child should be allowed to dress as a historical figure. But public clarification of policy and rebuke by the school board would seem punishment enough.

    But let’s make it interesting… suppose the child came dressed as the prophet Mohammed. Would this not violate the prohibition against aniconism (by certain Islamic sects) and risk radical retribution against the school and all its students?

  3. #3 Fastlane
    February 23, 2007

    I think these stupid actions are the religious extremists reaping what they sow, and it may even be an intentional part of some overall strategy to get the masses to feel that they really are persecuted.

    Here’s how it works:

    1. Claim that the liberal activist courts have made it illegal to pray in school, carry a bible to school, or even mention jebus in passing within 100 ft of a school. (ok, that last was only a little bit of an exaggeration.)
    2. Spread these claims in the media every chance you get, and promote the idea that there is a war on xianity. Do this until the xians all believe it.
    3. Wait for a (probably) xian school administrator acts to curtail some (constitutionally acceptable) religious expression in school (like this case).
    4. Claim more persecution.
    5. Sue.
    6. Try to convince congress to pass laws making xianity ‘protected’ by actually giving it special priveleges.

    We have seen this happen many times just in the last couple of years. The principle is probably xian. She probably is truly afraid that she would get sued by the ACLU (because of the boogey-man image the right wingers spread). And she reacted predictably.

    So then the right wing ACLJ, whose only concern is pushing xianity, sues, giving them more money.

    What I don’t understand is why this came to a lawsuit. Did the principle actually continue to insist that what she did was constitutional, or did the ACLJ simply file a suit without trying to educate and negotiate with teh school? (My guess is the latter. The ACLU always writes a letter to cease and desist, giving potential claimants a chance to back down.)


  4. #4 Ed Brayton
    February 23, 2007


    Same answer. Regardless of whether someone else’s religious views are offended, the kid has a right to wear the costume. We don’t change the law to appease nuts.


    I think you’re right and I’ve made that argument before myself. But that doesn’t excuse school officials. It’s part of their job to know what the law says. Especially given that the last two administrations have both sent out packages explaining the current church/state law with respect to public schools to every single school in the nation, there’s simply no excuse. And as I said, this one is so obvious that you’d almost have to be an idiot to screw it up.

  5. #5 Alan B.
    February 23, 2007

    According to the complaint both the superintendent and asst super had a chance to intervene and chose not to, so it is not just the principal. It is interesting to note that this is the same school district that spawned Schempp.

  6. #6 Ed Brayton
    February 23, 2007

    You know, when I saw Abington school district I wondered if it was the same one that Ellery Schempp’s case came from. I intended to look it up to make sure and it slipped my mind. Mr. Schempp was kind enough to write a guest post for this blog a few months ago and to this day he remains one of my heroes for what he did.

  7. #7 Ed Darrell
    February 23, 2007

    I sorta wonder whether the defense will be that they thought the costume blasphemous, and acted to prevent offense to Christians. I mean, think about it: Jesus for Halloween? Jesus on the way to the cross, for Halloween? Jesus with the demons, devils, Frankensteins, mummies, princesses and firemen?

  8. #8 raj
    February 25, 2007

    Maybe the boi could find a place in the school’s thespian club. Presuming, of course, that he could get away from the flying tomatoes.

    At some point, these lil’ high school antics need to be put to rest. Ignored. Laughed at. Whatever. If the guy wants to traips around a school facility in freezing weather in a toga and a mini-top (sorry “wreath”), let him. Videotape it. After it has been shown to have caused a conundrum in regards instruction, throw the guy out. It really is as simple as that.

    This case makes me wonder whether there was a conspiracy between the school marshallistas and the parents of the high school braviados to bring this to the attention to (shudder!) the ChristianNewsService and FauxNews(no news, any of the time).com to create a news(!) emergency, to increase their respective ratings.

  9. #9 Lou FCD
    February 26, 2007

    Heh. I went to Willow Hill in the late ’70s, and still have relatives in the district.

    Nothing surprises me about that school district.

    It’s a mess from top to bottom.

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