Sunday, September 12, 2010

School Principal Threatens Teachers for Religious Activities

There are already several posts on this blog about how some school officials are not supportive of any religious activities or recognition. Most often, by a very great margin, are instances where the intolerance is toward Christians rather than those of other faiths. And virtually always the discrimination has been due to a misunderstanding about the meaning of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.

The latest case I heard about is from Fishersville, Virginia. In this case, it would seem the principal of Wilson Middle School wants teachers to stay very far away from any organized student religious activities and organizations like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. In a letter to the faculty, Principal Curtis said, “As I trust common sense and your elementary knowledge of the law should remind you, the Constitution includes an amendment that expects 'The government will not establish any religion,’... Be as religious as you want when you’re not in your official role as a teacher. Your official role as a teacher starts anytime you’re involved with students. Please check with me or your attorney if you need clarification so I can avoid termination proceedings for those of you that don't believe me or wish to test this concept. I’m being somewhat of a smart a&*, but I trust ‘You’re feeling me!’”

The part of the amendment Curtis references says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion; or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;" It was clearly understood at the time of its writing to be a limitation of the power of the Federal Government, because more than half the states had laws establishing religion. The states would not have ratified the Constitution if they believed the Federal Government would interfere with their state religions. A later amendment is interpreted to bring the same mandate on the states. Even if that were the case, the amendment prohibits a law from being established. Individual participation by faculty in religious activities is hardly establishing a law. And the principal completely ignored the equally important second half of the Amendment, which intended to protect the free exercise of religion.

The non-profit Rutherford Institute has stepped in to help the teachers. The organization said, in part:

“By intimidating teachers, through threat of termination, into refusing to provide the same types of administrative assistance to the FCA as are made available to other student groups, Principal Curtis has pitted himself in direct opposition to the spirit of the First Amendment” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “School administrators need to act immediately to correct the erroneous impression conveyed by the principal’s e-mail that religion has no place in the public schools.”

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