Saturday, November 25, 2006

Isn't There A Commandment About This?

Over in New Jersey, a high school student accused his social studies teacher of preaching in class. The teacher denied it, and the department and principal were prepared to take his word for it. Except the boy had it all on tape.
Junior Matthew LaClair, 16, said history teacher David Paszkiewicz, who is also a Baptist preacher in town, spent the first week of class lecturing students more about heaven and hell than the colonies and the Constitution.

LaClair said Paszkiewicz told students that if they didn't accept Jesus, "you belong in hell." He also dismissed as unscientific the theories of evolution and the "Big Bang."

LaClair, who described his own religious views as "non-Christian," said he wanted to complain about Paszkiewicz to school administrators, but feared his teacher would deny the charges and that no one would take a student's word against a teacher's. So, he said, he started taping Paszkiewicz.

Nice. There are those who say that localities should control whether and to what degree religion should be inserted into the schools. It isn't coercive, they argue, and in any event schools should be taught in accordance to prevailing local norms (which in many cases are Christian). The problem is that in the places where such sentiment is likely to be most intense and thus acted upon (i.e., those places where teachers disregard the current law which says education and religious instruction should not mix), the evidence shows much the reverse: minority religious opinions are marginalized and dissenters are singled out. Consider how LaClair's fellow students reacted to his exposure of the teacher:
As LaClair spoke outside the Devon Street school, some students yelled taunts at him while others glared.

"Mr. Paszkiewicz is an outstanding man," said 16-year-old Stephanie Formoso, a member of the crew team coached by Paszkiewicz and one of his history students.

"Matt set him up," Formoso added. "Mr. Paszkiewicz would always say (when he spoke about religion) 'In my opinion.' He never pushed his beliefs on anyone."

Ah, the Marian Barry defense. This is sadly typical of these sorts of cases. When a member of minority religion comes forward and says that a certain action makes him or her feel like an outsider, a) the claim is mocked and dismissed and b) the marginalization is stepped up a notch. Taunts and glares are actually quite mundane here--threats and acts of violence are quite common in similar cases I've read about.

PZ Myers says that Paszkiewicz is about to become a "right-wing martyr" who will be invited by church groups all over the place to come and lecture about the evils of our secular school system. I suppose this is a test then: how many supposedly Christian groups will be tempted to do that? How many will bend over backwards to defend a man who openly lied about using his teaching position to degrade and marginalize members of religious minorities?

Originally via Steve Benen.

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