Thursday, December 31, 2015

Curmie contenders: Christianity in Public Education Edition (part 2)

A couple of days ago we looked at a host of instances of Christian over-reach: events that might have been fine in a religious environment, but not in a publicly funded (even partially publicly-funded) enterprise. We pick up with further follies of misplaced evangelism, because they just wouldn’t fit in one post.

What the hell is crap like this doing in a public school?
Of course, pseudo-Christians aren’t necessarily about how their religion is good; some of them would rather tell us about how other religions are bad. And so we shift our gaze to Richmond, Texas, where Foster High School teacher Herby Woolverton distributed what could legitimately be called a virulently anti-Islamic 8-page handout to his class: Muhammad was a “false prophet” and a “warmonger”; Islam “tends to force its ideology… through propaganda, subversion, and even physical force…” La la how the life goes on.

Once again, if Mr. Woolverton chooses to believe this crap, there’s not much we can (or should) do to stop him, provided he doesn’t resort to violence. But thinking this is an appropriate handout in a public school classroom: that makes him stupid and unprofessional as well as hateful. Curmie sheds nary a tear, and sincerely hopes he’s never allowed in a classroom ever again.

Of course, there are always the “he said/she said” stories. An ideal example is that of Valyntyne Hale, an 8th grader (at the time) at Del Crest Middle School in Del City, Oklahoma. The school says she was written up for a skirt that was too short. She says, no, it wasn’t, and she’s being harassed because she’s a Satanist. Obviously, it’s perfectly possible that the skirt does indeed “come up in the back,” as school officials claim, and that Ms. Hale and her father are playing victim. But it does say something about the state of public education that Curmie is more inclined to believe the girl than the teachers and principal. He does note, however, that he cannot verify the claim in the linked article that “[o]ther students in the school have worn short skirts with the school’s blessing. Some of those students are featured on the school’s official website.” Of course, this doesn’t mean that such students weren’t on the website, but they aren’t now.

Curmie also remembers one of his first posts on inappropriately handled dress codes: the case of “adult onset atheist’s” daughter who was similarly busted for having too short a skirt. First off, if her skirt was too short, then dress code is a farce; secondly, there were documentable instances of girls’ wearing shorter skirts without punishment; finally, oh, yeah, atheist family in a religious (in this case, Mormon) town. Stevie Nicks just might describe the Del City episode as hauntingly familiar.

Pastor Randy Pfaff, de facto Tsar of Florence High School.
And so we move on to Florence (CO) High School, home of Jesus Pizza. Could Curmie make that up? Here’s just part of the litany of allegations, according to a lawsuit filed by Robert Basevitz, apparently the only Jewish teacher in the school system (hired before he knew that a public school wasn’t really intended to serve everyone):
  • The Cowboy Church at the Crossroads, headed by Pastor Randy Pfaff, which (legally) holds services in the school cafeteria, is advertised by two large signs visible from the highway. According to the Church itself, it seeks to “get church back into school.”
  • The Fellowship of Christian Huskies, nominally a student group, is indeed run by Pastor Pfaff, and is in effect a beard for explicitly religious activities, supported by Principal Brian Schipper and Superintendent Rhonda Vendetti.
  • Morning prayers at the school’s flagpole are a daily occurrence. Pastor Pfaff or another member of the Church use a P.A. system to preach. These sessions are occasionally publicized over the school’s own public address equipment.
  • These prayers are often so large that non-affiliated staff and students literally can’t get to the doors of the school without interrupting the service.
  • The Church, with the complicity of the school administration, distribute flyers on school property, “including in teacher mailboxes, classrooms, and the School’s guidance office. There is also a “Prayer Requests” box in the faculty lounge.
  • The Fellowship holds weekly lunches at the school, an event known locally as “Jesus Pizza.” The meeting is promoted by a large and obviously sectarian sign on school grounds.
  • The Church, with the cooperation of the administration, distributes Bibles and placards in school. There’s a “scholarship night” run by the Church, with active participation from the principal and assistant principal.
  • One such “scholarship night” included “senior prayers” and a concert by a Christian rock group. The local newspaper (which seems complicit in the whole affair) chirps that “Many, many students and faculty have found Jesus during this presentation.” Curmie didn’t even know he was missing.
  • An all-school assembly was “based off the scripture of Matthew 7:13.”
And on and on and on. If even some of these allegations are even marginally accurate, we have a real problem here. Schipper and Vendetti need to be gone. They may be good administrators in some ways, but they need to be working for a Christian school that admits to being one.

Unconstitutional and completely fake at the same time.  The daily double!
Then, of course, there’s Mount Vernon (TX) ISD, which managed simultaneously to promote Christianity and to misattribute the quotations employed in the process. The dim bulbs at Mount Vernon decided that nothing says “constitutionality” better than painting the school walls with schlock like “It is impossible to govern a nation without God and the Bible” and “Within the covers of the Bible are the answers for all the problems men face.” The former quotation was attributed to George Washington, the latter to Ronald Reagan.

But here’s the thing: completely apart from the divisive proselytizing of these sayings, neither Washington nor Reagan actually said those things. The misattributed Reagan quote sounds vaguely like something the Gipper might have said, but anyone with even a passing knowledge of history would smell something suspicious about that alleged Washingtonian bromide.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation rightly notes not merely the unconstitutionality of the endorsement of a single religion, but also that:
The district cannot even fall back on the argument that these quotes have educational merit, given the many examples of misquotes, misattributions, and entirely fraudulent quotes displayed on its walls. The district sets a poor example for its students if it cannot be bothered to fact check the messages it chooses to endorse.
In one impressive display of arrogance, egocentrism, and stupidity, then, school officials managed to demonstrate both a profound ignorance of the Bill of Rights and combination of academic incompetence and laziness that would be unacceptable in a high school freshman. They are legitimate Curmie contenders.

Finally (because Curmie doesn’t have all week), there’s the story from Forest Park Elementary Schoolin Fort Wayne, Indiana, where 2nd grade teacher Michelle Meyer is accused of punishing a student for telling a classmate he doesn’t believe in God.

At one level, this is a classic “he said, she said” scenario, as Meyer denies the allegations. Even if we believe her account, however, there’s a problem. There seems to be no doubt that the student in question, “A.B.,” had told a classmate that he doesn’t go to church or believe in God. Meyer says she was concerned at the boy’s admission that he did not care about the impact of his words on another student. Two questions: 1). why should he? 2). was there similar concern that the classmate’s comments would have on him?

The school came to their teacher’s assistance, and in the absence of real evidence, they were probably right to do so. But don’t be surprised if the boy’s lawsuit is successful.

There are more stories, of course: too many to enumerate. Here are just a couple to mention in passing: the Hall County school district in Gainsville, Georgia, that was successfully sued for promotion of Christianity in their athletic program; the Kountze (TX) ISD, whose cheerleaders can’t possibly just… you know… cheer without trotting out the religious banners; Principal Allen Burch of Lincoln High School in Tallahassee, Florida, who unilaterally pulled The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime from a summer reading list because it doesn’t show proper reverence for God and the Christian faith; the whiny Duke freshmen who didn’t want to read Fun Home because it would compromise their “personal moral Christian beliefs” (Curmie has an idea: don’t go to Duke if you’re so fucking cloistered you can’t even read something that challenges your privilege)—this would get its own post had Duke’s reading list been required and had they allowed these close-minded little assholes to avoid the work, but the university responded appropriately.

A couple more stories to write up to try to squeeze them in before the year is out.

No comments: