Monday, June 2, 2008

No Visible Bibles Allowed in School

In Mount Vernon Middle School (Ohio), the school is trying to force a teacher not to keep a Bible on his desk. This is not your average teacher - he has taught science at Mount Vernon Middle School for 20 years and last year was named Teacher of the Year.

Now I think there is more to the story. If I remember from previous reading, this teacher has also been sharing religious thoughts in the classroom. That could be inappropriate, depending on the nature of the thoughts, and certainly could make the teacher more visible to the administration.

However, the effort is focused on the Bible on his desk. News accounts of the issue often report it this way:

"Administrators recently ordered Freshwater to remove the Bible, citing a violation of the separation of church and state." (from

This type of event contributes to the attitude by many in the public that any visible signs of a person's faith (student or teacher) are illegal in a public school. And often the administration will win in a battle like this, not because it has a correct legal foundation but because many teachers won't risk their career.

Just as a reminder of some of the history, the "separation of church and state" phrase so often used in these stories is credited to Thomas Jefferson. The same Jefferson as president of the Washington, D.C. school district specified that the two primary sources of reading practice for the nation's first public school system would be the Holy Bible and the Watts Hymnal. Would it be logical to assume that Jefferson's thinking would support forcing a teacher to keep his personal Bible hidden from view?


CrypticLife said...

The groundwork for this was already set in an earlier case, on whether a school district could prevent a teacher from wearing her Islamic headscarf.

The answer was that they could.

Christians made this rule, not atheists. Legally, the school can tell Freshwater to take the Bible off his desk.

History Matters said...


Can you point me to that case? I'm having trouble finding it.

It may be a different issue anyway. Police departments sometimes have banned the wearing of a cross on the uniform (not a chaplain). I would not argue with the concept of having strict uniform standards.

I wouldn't think a school would have a blanket rule against any non-curricular books on a desk, and if they only forbade a Bible it would not seem appropriate.

I'd be curious to read the facts in the school case you mention.


CrypticLife said...

Sorry, it was a sikh and a turban -- the case is Cooper v. Eugene School district.

I think they should forbid books besides the Bible. They should probably be able to restrict teacher display of The Koran, The God Delusion, The Torah, Mein Kampf, etc.