Religious rights of teachers

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The religious rights of teachers in America have often come in conflict with local governments and with teachers' unions intent on promoting a specific political agenda.

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Discrimination Against Religious Teachers By Unions

Despite the fact that teachers' unions are theoretically supposed to protect the rights of members, religious teachers sometimes find that the opposite is true. William Morgan, an employee of the Mentor Public Schools in Ohio, objected to having his dues spent to promote causes which went against his faith (specifically, the union's pro-abortion and pro-homosexuality positions.) As a result, Morgan found himself subjected to annual and intrusive questioning by the Ohio Education Association, as did other Ohio teachers with similar religious objections. When his request for a religious accomodation was denied, Morgan filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In 2003, the EEOC found that the OEA was violating the rights of Morgan and other teachers of faith by denying them the right to abstain from contributing to causes to which they personally objected.[1], [2].

Discrimination Against Religious Teachers By School Districts

Bruce Bennett vs. Patchogue-Medford Union Free School District

Bruce Bennett, a public-school teacher with degrees in Biblical studies and social science, filed a complaint against the Patchogue-Medford Union Free School District in 2004, after being denied the opportunity to teach classes from a Christian perspective, including one critical of evolution [3]. Bennett was denied the opportunity to teach for six years, despite the fact that other courses of a religious (but non-Christian) nature were approved, including courses on Tarot reading and ancient Egyptian magic[4]. Faced with a potential lawsuit, the district acknowledged that they could not lawfully discriminate against Bennett based on the content of his courses [5]. As of October, 2004, Bennett was allowed to offer his courses at the community center.

John Freshwater vs. OEA

John Freshwater is an eighth-grade science teacher from Mt. Vernon, Ohio. In June, 2008, he was fired from his position for refusing to conceal his Christian faith, thereby becoming a figure in the ongoing debate about academic honesty and the religious rights of teachers.

Freshwater had been a teacher and wrestling coach at Mt. Vernon Middle School since 1987. Despite being well liked and admired by his students [6], he experienced friction with the school district on a number of occasions, when the district used procedural technicalities to prevent him from questioning or criticizing the theory of evolution. [7].

The conflict that eventually led to the termination of Freshwater's conflict centered around religious materials he kept in his classroom. The school district demanded that students not be exposed to or allowed to access the Bible or the Ten Commandments. [8], [9]. Although Freshwater attempted to comply with the district's ultimatums, his faith compelled him to stand up for his right to keep a personal Bible on his desk. [10] The district disagreed, and fired him. In so doing, they cited accusations that Freshwater had "branded students" with the image of a cross. Freshwater clarified that he was demonstrating the function of an electronic device by marking students' arms with an "X," a demonstration that caused no harm to the students in question and is common in science classes. [11]

Discrimination Against Religious Schools

While Christian teachers are not censored and forbidden to express their religious views at private, Christian schools, they are nonetheless discriminated against by the larger educational system--often at the expense of their students. In 2005, a group of students from Southern California evangelical schools filed suit against the University of California for religious discrimination. Despite having extremely high grades and test scores, they argued that the university's refusal to certify many of the courses offered by their high school amounted to discrimination. [12]. The case, Association of Christian Schools International v. Roman Stearns, culminated in a ruling by activist judge S. James Otero, who sided with the University [13]. Otero agreed with the defendants' argument that the textbooks used by Cavalry Chapel Christian School were unacceptable because they reflected a Christian viewpoint.

References

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