God in the classroom

March 3, 2010

Two news stories relating to religion encroaching on public education came to my attention today courtesy of the Friendly Atheist.

The first involves an industrial arts at Guthrie Center High School in Guthrie Center, Iowa whose love of Jesus led to him denying  a student the right to make “a Wiccan alter.” The project simply called for students to build something from scratch.

Now initially I thought maybe this was acceptable on the same grounds that it be deemed “inappropriate” in school, a defense often used to justify censoring material in public school literary magazines, for instance. And I could see letting the whole thing slide on those grounds.

Unfortunately though the teacher, Dale Halferty, changed my mind by saying too much:

Halferty said he thought about it, and decided allowing the student to make the altar “was wrong on every level.”

“It scares me. I’m a Christian,” he said. “This witchcraft stuff — it’s terrible for our kids. It takes kids away from what they know, and leads them to a dark and violent life. We spend millions of tax dollars trying to save kids from that.”

So by his own admission, this is not about appropriateness but rather it’s all about Jesus. And you know, if the guy had only shut up about his his prejudices, nobody would have questioned the decision and this would not have stirred the kind of controversy that it did.

Halferty said he previously told another student he could not build a cross in shop class because he believes in the separation of church and state. “I don’t want any religious symbols in the shop,” he said.

His viewpoint: “We as Christians don’t get to have our say during school time, so why should he?”

No, no, no. It’s THE SCHOOL and the school employees that are constitutionally prevented from promoting religion, not the students, whose free speech is protected by the Establishment Clause. Of course there’s plenty of legal precedence supporting a public school’s right to regulate student expression on school time and on the school’s property.

Now the other story where religion invaded the classroom is more overtly criminal. Bradley Johnson, a math teacher at Westview High School in the Poway Unified School District in California hung numerous large banners in his classroom that explicitly promote his Christianity:

The banners are about 7 feet wide and 2 feet tall. One has the phrases “In God We Trust,” “One Nation Under God,” “God Bless America” and “God Sheds His Grace On thee.”

A second reads “All Men Are Created Equal, They Are Endowed By Their Creator,” with the last word in uppercase letters.

Yeah, there’s just no excuse for this sort of nonsense. This is not even close to acceptable behavior for a public school teacher.

Now you’d think this is the sort of thing that would get the guy fired but no. He was sued though. Unfortunately, despite such a clear violation of the law, Johnson won:

Judge Roger Benitez said teacher Bradley Johnson is entitled to a declaration that his First Amendment rights were violated by the Poway Unified School District.

He also said in a ruling Friday that Johnson should get damages of $10 ?from each of nine officials he named in a lawsuit filed in 2007.

Benitez also ordered the district to allow Johnson to rehang the banners in his classroom.

If I were among the plaintiffs I’d appeal on the grounds that this is a gross Mistake of Law as the judge completely mishandled this case. While I don’t know all the facts, this seemed about as much of an airtight case as one gets and it should not have ruled that way.

Here is the judge’s ruling (PDF).

News From Around The Blogosphere 1.13.10

January 14, 2010

1. Divorce found to be higher in states with gay marriage bans – So apparently marriage equality SAVES “traditional” marriage.

2. Pew survey shows rise in interracial marriage – Reality seems to have a liberal bias.

3. Ken Ham talks about the upcoming atheist convention in Melbourne, Australia

Imagine–listening to a meaningless talk at a meaningless conference held on a meaningless planet in a meaningless universe! Now, that would be an uplifting conference!

From their worldview, wouldn’t atheists see this meeting as a meaningless waste of time? Of course, they would claim they have some purpose and meaning–but it would be all constructed subjectively according to their own determinations! All because they shake their fist at God–but why?

I don’t think he likes us. Either that or he was playing a drinking game requiring everyone to drink every time someone said the word “meaningless.”

4. 16 ‘Fellows’ elected to the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI)

  • Kimball Atwood IV, physician, author, Newton, Massachusetts.
  • Robert T. Carroll, emeritus professor of philosophy, Sacramento City College, writer.
  • K.C. Cole, science writer, author, professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Journalism.
  • Christopher C. French, professor, department of psychology, and head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit, Goldsmiths College, University of London.
  • Luigi Garlaschelli, chemist, Università di Pavia (Italy), and research fellow of CICAP, the Italian skeptics’ group.
  • Maryanne Garry, professor, School of Psychology, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.
  • Harriet Hall, retired family physician, writer, Puyallup, Washington.
  • Stuart D. Jordan, NASA astrophysicist emeritus, science advisor to Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy, Washington, D.C.
  • Kenneth R. Miller, professor of biology, Brown University.
  • Jan Willem Nienhuys, mathematician, Waalre, The Netherlands.
  • Steven Novella, assistant professor of neurology, Yale University School of Medicine.
  • Jay M. Pasachoff, Field Memorial Professor of Astronomy and director of the Hopkins Observatory, Williams College.
  • Massimo Pigliucci, professor of philosophy, City University of New York-Lehman College.
  • Philip Plait, astronomer, lecturer, and writer.
  • James “The Amazing” Randi, magician, CSICOP founding member, founder, the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF).
  • Seth Shostak, senior astronomer, SETI Institute, Mountain View, Calif.
  • Congratulations to all of you!

    5. Iowa official trying to force “so help me god” into new congresspersons’ oath of office – This is the latest proposal by Mount Auburn Rep. Dawn Pettengill. Guess which party Pettengill belongs to. No c’mon. Guess. I know you can.

    News From Around The Blogosphere 12.22.09

    December 23, 2009

    1. When prayer backfires – Oklahoma’s Tom Coburn called for the teabagger crowd to prayer that somebody in the senate doesn’t make it for the health care bill so that the Democrats can be filibustered. And as God would have it, somebody didn’t show up. Unfortunately for Coburn, that somebody was James Inhofe, who was among those opposed to health care reform. What can you say? Either god’s not a giant douchebag after all and supports health care reform, god’s not very powerful, god works in mysterious ways, or god just doesn’t fuckin’ exist. Bummer dude.

    2. Texas Board of Ed’s Don McLeroy didn’t hide his religious motivation – McLeroy has been the leading member of the board that’s been pushing this ridiculous “teach the weaknesses in evolution” nonsense, and even he happily admited his religious motivation:

    Am I a religious fanatic? Absolutely. You’d have to be to do what I do.

    3. Atheist bus campaign in Iowa –

    The last time Iowa atheists put up bus ads, they were quickly taken down (and then later put back up), a bus driver refused to do her job because an atheist ad was on her bus, and the governor complained.

    That was all over an ad that simply read: “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.” Now the the Iowa Atheists & Freethinkers are putting up a new bus ad that reads:  “Being good for goodness sake.”

    4. NYC Atheists and Catholic activists sue Catholic Church – Ken Bronstein of the NYC Atheists has teamed up with Catholic activists in a legal battle against the Catholic Diocese:

    Charging that the Catholic Church should lose its tax-exempt status, a consortium of atheists and Catholic activists filed two lawsuits against Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, Assemblymember Vito Lopez (D-Williamsburg) and the Catholic Diocese over their role in producing a recorded message sent to Williamsburg’s registered voters less than a week before they went to the polls.

    Led by NYC Atheists President Kenneth Bronstein and New Jersey-based priest abuse activist Reverend Robert Hoatson, the suits allege that DiMarzio violated Internal Revenue Service laws by recording a political message sent to voters in a hotly contested City Council election, which could cost the Church privileges enjoyed by its nonprofit status.

    News From Around The Blogosphere 10.26.09

    October 26, 2009

    1. Walt Disney refunds parents for not making their kids geniuses – Disney is refunding parents for all those “Baby Einstein” videos. Come to think of it, my niece watched them. I wasn’t aware that these videos promised to make kids smart anymore than I was aware Baby Van Gogh promised to turn kids into great artists.

    2. The zombie apocalypse has been prevented. . .for now – An Iowa man accused another man of being a zombie, and then punched him…twice. I can only imagine this was because he was following Rule #4, which calls for a “double tap”:

    3. Felicia Day does a NASA PSAFelicia Day, best known for her role in Joss Whedon’s hit internet musical Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and less known for her starring role in the never-aired episode of Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse (and possibly the show’s best episode), has now she’s managed to somehow up her geek cred even more:

    4. Inland Empire Atheists take their ads into the coffee shops

    Suspended Iowa bus driver back at work

    August 24, 2009

    The other day, I blogged about the Iowa bus driver, Angela Shiel, who was suspended after she refused to do her job because the bus he’d been assigned had the new atheist ad on it with the, oh so offensive, “Don’t Believe In God? You Are Not Alone” slogan on it.

    Well now she’s back at work. . .conditionally:

    DART officials told Shiel last week that she could keep her job as long as she didn’t refuse to drive a bus again. They could not promise her that she wouldn’t be assigned a bus with the atheist ad, said General Manager Brad Miller.

    “We’re giving her a second chance,” Miller said. “There’s no assurances that there might not be another ad she doesn’t agree with. There’s so many different things that go into that, there’s no way we can guarantee anything.”

    Miller said Shiel was told she would be subject to termination should she choose to walk away from the job again.

    Seems very reasonable on the part of the DART officials. No reason anyone needs to get fired over this. Maybe this can just be one of the teachable moments that can cause Ms. Shiel to, as Obama might say, recalibrate your thinking. Except for this:

    Shiel said today that her views on the ad haven’t changed and she still will not drive any bus with the ad.

    “Hopefully I won’t get the sign anymore,” she said. “It’s a chance I have to take. …I like what I’m doing. I don’t want to start all over.”

    What the fuck?! You don’t have to start over. You were wrong, have been disciplined, and now your bosses have given you a second chance.

    I don’t think she quite understands the arrangement. She’s being given a second chance on the condition that she promises to do her job and not flake out again. That, as I understand it, was the deal. Now she’s publicly stating that if she does happen to drive another truck with an atheist ad on it, she’s just going to do the same thing she did before? Isn’t that the definition of insanity? You’re not getting it, Angela. Agreeing to come back to work means promising not to flake out again and do your job regardless of what’s written on the side of your vehicle. Considering your outrageous actions, that’s a pretty good deal. If you can’t promise not to walk off the job again, then you shouldn’t be returning to work at all!

    Now to be fair, I’d be pretty upset if I had to drive a bus with a large ad on the side of it that I strongly disagreed with too. But would I walk off the job because of it? No. That would be irresponsible and disrespectful to my employers as well as my fellow co-workers. I would politely talk to management about my concerns and tell them that I don’t think it’s a good idea for them to accept advertising from controversial sources that might offend certain customers. Sure, it probably wouldn’t do any good, but I’d at least know that I did something. And the bottom line is that I wouldn’t walk away from my responsibilities.

    Iowa bus driver refuses to drive bus with atheist advertising

    August 18, 2009

    An Iowa bus driver refused to do her job merely because she couldn’t handle the mere suggestion that some people might not believe in her god:

    It happened during shift change. There were some passengers on the bus, but DART officials said they called in a replacement driver and passengers had to wait only about 5 minutes.

    DART officials said the driver faces disciplinary action for refusing to drive the bus.

    This was over another of the “Don’t Believe In God? You Are Not Alone” ads that despite being 100% inoffensive, seem to somehow be pissing off lots of people who by sheer coincidence, happen to Christian. . .even though nothing in the ad addresses Christianity at all.

    This story sounds familiar. Oh yeah, that’s right. I already blogged about it in January when a bus driver in the UK behaved just as dispicably.

    My response from the January incident was:

    If this isn’t enough reason for why these ads are necessary in the first place, I don’t know what is. You don’t see anyone refusing to do their jobs on account of religious ads.

    Bus drivers don’t get to refuse to do their jobs if there’s a Coca Cola ad on their bus and they’re a Pepsi drinker. It’s not any different here. Nobody assumes the bus driver endorses the advertisements on his or her vehicle, so what’s the problem? Though not as bad as the pharmacists who tried to refuse sale of contraceptives because of their religion, this is still completely unacceptable behavior in our society.

    Iowa atheist bus ad to be restored

    August 8, 2009

    Earlier this week, I blogged about the plans to remove the atheist ads from Iowa buses because some Iowa’s felt the slogan, “Don’t Believe In God? You’re Not Alone” too offensive to their delicate sensibilities. Well now, after the Iowa Atheists refused to change the slogan (because honestly, you really can’t get much tamer and less offensive than the one they had), the Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority officials (DART) agreed to put the atheist bus ads back up in Iowa unchanged:

    “By honoring the freedoms protected through our shared civil liberties, DART, like other businesses that accept advertising, will be in the position of displaying messages and images that may be controversial or uncomfortable to some, but legal and protected by civil rights,” DART General Manager Brad Miller stated in an e-mail.

    It also probably didn’t hurt that the Iowa ACLU stepped in.

    The Iowa Atheist and Freethinkers group also sent an e-mail Friday to Gov. Chet Culver, who said Thursday that he was offended by the advertisement and the message it sent.

    “We are disappointed he decided to take sides on what we see as a free-speech issue,” Kryuchkov said.

    Suck it, Chet!