These words, which I am ordering you today, are to be on your heart; and you are to teach them carefully to your children. You are to talk about them when you sit at home, when you are traveling on the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
Teachers Get a Lessen in Liberty
Teachers have enough to worry about these days without adding religious intolerance to the mix. But unfortunately for Joelle Silver and Walter Tutka, administrators seem more concerned about their personal beliefs than their professional success. Silver, who is just 29, has been part of the science department in New York's Cheektowaga District for seven years. As advisor for the school's Bible Study Club, she kept a prayer request box in her office and kept Scripture post-it notes on her desk. Last fall, a student complained to secular activists that Miss Silver decorated her classroom with quotes from President Ronald Reagan and I Corinthians. At one point, the student said, she even referenced Adam and Eve in a discussion about the human rib cage.
At the prompting of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, school officials sent Silver an eight-page letter warning her that teachers' "rights to free speech and expression are not as broad as if you were simply a private citizen." Cheektowaga ordered Silver to tear down her posters and remove "even the small personal sticky notes" that she kept on her desk with encouraging Bible verses. To her credit, Silver didn't budge. "As a Christian and as an American, I believe it's incredibly important to fight to protect the rights that people have died to give me."
And fight she will. The young teacher announced last week that she's suing district officials for violating her First Amendment rights. Silver's attorney, Robert Muise, told Fox News that Cheektowaga is treating religious material like a "disease that has to be eradicated." "They essentially want her to cease being a Christian once she enters school property," Muise said. That's what should offend people--not quotes from the 40th President. When I was a Member of the Louisiana legislature, I authored a law called the American History Preservation Act that protects the reading and posting of a whole range of documents--from the national anthem to presidential speeches. If more states were willing to introduce measures like Louisiana's, religious liberty would be protected in classrooms like Joelle Silver's.
Meanwhile, in neighboring New Jersey, the censorship continues. Today, the city of Phillipsburg is outraged over the decision to fire a substitute teacher for giving a student his Bible. The middle schooler was late to class, and Walter Tutka told him, "Remember son, the first shall be last and the last shall be first." Days later, when the boy asked, Walter said the quote was from the Bible. That intrigued the student, who sought Tutka out over lunch and asked him more about it. Walter took out his Bible in the cafeteria and showed him the verse. When the boy said he didn't have a Bible, Tutka asked him if he'd like to have his. "The student said yes," a friend told Fox News.
And because of it, Walter is out of a job. The school board accused him of breaking two rules: distributing religious literature on school grounds and not practicing neutrality on faith. Eight people spoke on Tutka's behalf in yesterday's board meeting, but members were adamant about sanitizing schools of any mention of Christianity. If Tutka decides to sue, he'd have a fairly strong case. After all, he was answering a student's question--not proselytizing--and the conversation wasn't during instructional time. What's more, Tutka was providing literature of academic value (which the courts have recognized the Bible to be). Not too long ago, the Bible was America's only curriculum--and now educators treat it as if it were, to borrow Muise's description, "some kind of pornography."
Well, it's time to get something straight. There's no fine print in the U.S. Constitution excluding certain people from the First Amendment--not teachers, not businessmen, not even politicians. America will start understanding that fact as more Christians find their voice and stand their ground. In the meantime, you can encourage teachers, pastors, and leaders to start pushing back by introducing legislation similar to my 1997 law that would make it illegal to censor content like this. For a copy of the measure, click here.
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