Violations of Church and School July 12, 2008

Violations of Church and School

Microbiologychick went to a public school but remembers a number of church/state violations from her childhood:

In Jr. High, a few teachers gave extra credit for attending talks at churches or other large-scale religious activities that had no educational component

On a Jr. High school-sponsored Spring Break trip, prayer happened before meals on several occasions.

We had a Bible History class that was not critical or neutral, and we used a textbook created for Christian schools

Those are only a few examples of when Christianity ran rampant.

Not everyone knows that those things are wrong, students and teachers included. And unfortunately, not every person who does know these things are illegal is as courageous as Matthew LaClair.

I don’t remember any blatant church/state violations in the public schools I attended growing up. But I doubt I would’ve even noticed them taking place before high school.

Do you recall any violations from your own schooling?

(via Atheist Girls)

[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

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  • Amber

    I had a teacher for several years in (public) elementary school who wouldn’t allow us to read Harry Potter in her room.
    And, 6th grade, I had an English teacher who had just transferred from a Christian school. I had just came out as an atheist, and word had gotten out to some pretty mean kids. They threw paperclip crosses at me, even knocked my desk over at one point. I told said teacher that it had been going on for a week or so, and all I got was a disappointed sigh. (Which, I believe might have been directed at me.) No one got punished.
    Also, at my Jr. High graduation last month, my assistant principal held a prayer. (A very, very long prayer. In the 100-degree gym.)

  • Ron in Houston

    I had a physical science teacher in 8th grade who was one of those rapture types. He believed that some big war was going to happen in the middle east that would bring about the rapture.

    I didn’t grasp it at the time, but I later figured out that he got fired.

    It’s really kind of a shame, he was a good teacher and a nice guy. I guess he just couldn’t keep his religious belief to himself.

  • Daniel Hoffman

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

    In Jr. High, a few teachers gave extra credit for attending talks at churches or other large-scale religious activities that had no educational component

    Congress is not involved, laws are not involved, no religion is established, and no religion is prohibited.

    On a Jr. High school-sponsored Spring Break trip, prayer happened before meals on several occasions.

    Congress is not involved, laws are not involved, no religion is established, and no religion is prohibited.

    We had a Bible History class that was not critical or neutral, and we used a textbook created for Christian schools

    Congress is not involved, laws are not involved, no religion is established, and no religion is prohibited.

    When it comes down to it, the government has less constitutional authority to even have a department of education than it has to stop teachers from praying in class or assigning whatever extra credit they see fit to assign.

  • I don’t recall any from when I was a student (though I’m sure they were there, it’s that type of place), but recently visited my old elementary school. They had a poster in the gymnasium with a Bible verse on it. I notified the principal about it and she had the pe teacher remove the poster.

    Doesn’t make much difference, though, when the OH motto is “With God All Things Are Possible” and it is required to be posted inside schools as long as a donor pays for the poster, which someone did.

  • TheOtherOne

    Don’t recall any religion at all in my junior high (went to a church school before that). I thought there was a really good balance at my high school – most classes were completely secular. The Mormons had a club-house across the street and had a class they offered that went through the books of the gospel (1 a year, so you got all 4 if you did all 4 years) that basically substituted for study hall. I don’t recall whether you could get credit for it or not (it was theoretically open to all students, but they didn’t exactly go out of their way to urge the non-mormon students to attend).

    My senior year, they offered a optional “Humanities” class that you could take instead of English. I took that and it was a really cool class – we read both the biblical story of the flood and the comparable part from the Epic of Gilgamesh. We also read the book of Job, and some other texts. Then it moved on and went through music, art, and architecture before and during the Renaissance, and how that reflected society at the time, etc.

    At graduation, they offered a baccalaureate, but made clear that it was optional. I think they might have included prayer in the graduation ceremony, but I was still religious at the time and wouldn’t have found that odd.

  • mikespeir

    Of course, I’m old (53 in a couple of months), but we had a prayer over the intercom every morning in high (public) school. Sometimes Christian bands were brought in and we could get out of class by attending the performances in the gym. Being a Christian myself at the time, I didn’t think anything of it. Now I wonder how they got away with it.

  • Gabriel

    Mr. Hoffman,
    Public money is sent to public schools from the federal government. The congress appropriates these monies with taxes. When the school is spending these monies on religion in the ways you described it is a violation of the constitution and of some federal, state and usually local laws.

    The public school that I attended was small and poor and was in a small, poor, ignorant rural Texas town. Every science teacher that I had in Jr and Sr High School would start out biology lessons by telling the class that evolution wasn’t real science and that god had done everything.

    We prayed before and after all of our basketball games. We prayed before and after all school events. We often had preachers come in and present compulory lectures. I really hated those.

    My enlish and literature teacher was very much in favor of censorhip and would go through the library books with a black marker covering up words and passages that she objected to.

    The Ku Klux Klan was described in our official state approved history text as a “charitable organization that brought food to the poor.” That was it.

    My hisotry/gym teacher didn’t understand why poll taxes and literacy tests were unconstitutional. “It seems that you would need to be able to read to be able to vote” was her comment.

    Every halloween there were severl students dressed up in Ku Klux Klan robes at the school costume contest.

    The typing teacher wouldn’t say 666 when it came up in a typing exercise. Most of the teachers believed that AIDS was god’s punishment for gays.

    My shop teacher threatned to beat me up if I didn’t take out my earring one halloween. But backed off when I stood up and told him to bring it on.

    I’m not sure but I think most of this was probably illegal or at least in really bad taste.

  • I don’t actually recall having to deal with religion of any kind in school. I haven’t been Christian since before junior high so I think I would have noticed, but perhaps not or maybe I just don’t remember.

  • Nick

    You mean that smaller governments can do things that the federal government is not allowed to do? That seams to look past the reason of having the bill of rights in the first place.

  • Meg

    In 5th grade my teacher would read a Bible passage and then have a prayer everyday after lunch! Then in 12th grade my Psychology teacher once showed us a film of a preacher preaching a sermon called “Why do Bad Things Happen to God’s People?” and told us to just “pretend in our minds” that he was saying “Why do bad things happen to good people” as if good people and God’s people are even the same things anyway….

  • Luckily, my schools never practiced any BLATANT church/state violations, but every so often there would be little things, like individual teachers talking about some of the various (and most ludicrous) aspects of Christianity as if they were solid truth.

    Perhaps my most vivid experience is having my 6th grade BIOLOGY teacher repeat that old creationist canard that men have exactly one less rib than women, implying women were created from the rib of men. If only he had said that crap while I was in high school and actually had a little more knowledge under my belt.

  • Richard Wade

    I can’t remember a peep, a whisper or a hint of anything religious from kindergarten through graduate school, all in Southern California. I think I would have noticed, always having been one of those pain-in-the-neck kids who asked embarrassing questions.

  • Ron in Houston

    Richard Wade

    You bring up an interesting point. I wonder how much of this sort of occurrence depends on where you’re located geographically.

  • ryot

    I’ve never really noticed it in school. Out of class I certainly noticed some teachers’ convoluted ideas about religion, but not in class. Some students don’t like that I’d leave out “under god” in the pledge, but no teachers noticed. Religion wasn’t the problem at my school, it was the incompetence of some of the teachers. A history teacher of mine never actually read our essays and based grades on whether or not it contained a few keywords and looked comprehensive. We had some pretty fun ways of proving he never read them. He was also just generally ignorant, he’d start every sentence about race with an “I’m not racist but…” other times he’s said things like, “I don’t hate homosexuals but it’s a disease and should be cured.” I have no idea why he hasn’t been let go, he’s old as dirt and students continue to fail state standardized tests.

    All of my science teachers were great with the exception of one who was just a plain ass. His kids are homeschooled, and are probably taught with those previously mentioned texts. I’m glad he only taught earth science, stuff I already knew.

  • Alycia

    -In elementary school (small town in Ohio, early ’80s), we would have a pastor come to our class for bible study time for a class period. If your parents were opposed to it, you could leave the room. All the kids I remember leaving were Catholic. I really enjoyed it when the pastor came since he gave us these trivia games to fill out and we’d get a prize the following week.

    -After a few years of this, someone must have complained since they started having it in an old school bus. The ladies now teaching the class had very long hair and wore long skirts, and the bus smelled vaguely of baby vomit. It wasn’t nearly as much fun as it was before.

    -We regularly had prayers before assemblies, all the way up until high school. My pastor came and spoke at a Thanksgiving assembly one year.

    -Around the mid ’90s, when I was in high school, they said that we couldn’t pray at graduations and assemblies anymore unless the students voted for it and it was student led. So when we went over the schedule for graduation and prayer was mentioned, I held up my hand and said, “Hey, we didn’t vote for that!” and the class president said, in a snooty tone, “It was an executive decision.” I wish I would’ve had some balls back then and protested that in some way or another.

  • Soli

    Like a lot of other people, I can’t remember anything from my earlier schools.

    This past year before graduation there was a baccalaureate service. It wasn’t required. But all the advertisements in the cafeteria and the hallways it didn’t mention at all it was religious. I looked it up and was suprised. All that was said on the posters and flyers was “food, fun, and good music right before graduation!”. >

  • Xeonicus

    Growing up in Michigan, I don’t remember any overt religious influence in my school. There was a bible club, and on a few occasions some kids gathered outside at the flag pole before school to pray for a student who passed away, but none of it was compulsory or mentioned as any kind of official school event. I didn’t identify myself as an atheist when I was in high school though, so maybe I didn’t notice.

  • Prayers before football games, prayers before graduation, the usual.

    Oh, and of course having to say the pledge of allegiance. That’s a big violation.

  • Jacqueline

    Graduated from a small town HS in Michigan in ’05. At graduation there is always 2 student-led prayers.

    After 9-11 we had a prayed during a football game, and maybe one over the PA at school.

    I had an English teacher who wouldn’t have us read “Jesus Christ” (i.e. in vain) out loud from books, but was ok with any racial slurs the author used.

    In biology we were assured at the beginning of the class that we would be presented both Creationism and evolution, but the only notes my teacher wrote the whole time were “life begets life.” He then pontificated about intelligent design (before it was cool!) and religious parables for the rest of the year.

  • Dylan Armitage

    I went to parochial schools all the way until my freshman year in high school. First, one for preschool (if you can count that) and kindergarten, and another for 1st through 8th grade.

    The first one I went to I can’t really say much about. I remember about four days total out of those years, and it’s really not the same as grade school.

    For 1st through 8th I went to a Catholic school. And honestly, judging by everyone else’s testimonials about all those violations, I had it pretty good. Granted, if it was a public school, it would have violated some laws, but it wasn’t (obviously). Especially with attending Mass every first Friday of the month and on special days. (I was not, nor ever have been, Catholic.)
    However, when subjects were taught, there didn’t seem to be a problem at all. Pretty much all of our books would have been used in a public school (save the religion book). When science was taught, there was no mention of “God did it” or “this is just a theory.” (We also started out the year in the first chapter of the book, which made very clear the difference between the layman and the scientific definition.) There might have been some mention of the Dead Sea Scrolls when we were doing geology, but that was pretty much it. And when religion was taught, it was on its own.

    But also, Catholics can be pretty lenient when it comes to science. So perhaps my entire point is moot.

  • Jodie

    Public high school, Christian nutter Spanish teacher (didn’t cut her hair cuz Jesus doesn’t like women with short hair. I’m not kidding). We had to watch Veggie Tales. There was one song with Spanish. We watched the entire video. At the time I also was a Christian nutter. But I still knew it was wrong. The same teacher later attempted to suspend me for wearing a “Lifesaver” condom teacher.

  • The only thing that stands out to me probably isn’t illegal, I just remember feeling awkward about it. It was on September 11th (during my 8th grade year). The first planes had crashed into the Twin Towers during my 2nd period Spanish class. We had been watching the news all class after a teacher came and told my teacher what was going on. It was more important to see what was going on in our country than to sit and study Spanish for an hour.

    My next class was Science (ironically). When we got in there, we begged our teacher to turn on the tv because we were all freaked out about what was happening and wanted to keep updated. She said no, that we should just go home and pray, and went on for her lesson for the day.

    I was a little more “wtf?” than the rest of the students, as I thought telling us to all go pray was a stupid thing to do (How the heck is *that* going to help, I asked myslef). Instead we were just grumpy until we got to our next class, where we watched the news some more.

  • SarahH

    Definitely plenty of creationism references in science, but all by a teacher who was very non-pushy and didn’t care what you believed.

    One atheist/agnostic staff member (the rest were all casual or serious Christians) was often alienated and teachers insulted him in the presence of students, when he wasn’t around. Any negative attribute of his teaching or personality was attributed to his atheistic “bitterness”.

    Plenty of displays of religious belief by teachers in their workspace. Signs and frames with Bible verses on them, cross decorations, etc.

    Specifically Christian prayers at graduations and public outrage when the administration stopped leading it (the two top students could still “invite” everyone to a prayer anyway, which they did).

    Some is this stuff is kind of right on the line, but maybe not over it. I don’t know whether any of it was or is unconstitutional according to the letter of the law.

  • I only remember 2 things-in 8th grade science, I had a great teacher. He seemed ancient to me at the time, and was such a nice man. This would have been around 1983. On the first day he said something like “I’m a Christian man, and a science teacher. Some people’s religious beliefs may differ from what I teach in this class, but my job is to teach you science.” At the time I had no idea what he was talking about!
    The only religious thing I really remember was during my senior year(1988), they changed the baccalaureate service before graduation to something else. I seem to remember some people being in a huff over it, because they were no longer allowed to include prayer.

  • If anyone is wondering whether something is unconsititutional or not, a good test is the Lemon Test. It’s not used all of the time, but has been used often in the past to determine constitutionality regarding seperation of church and state issues. Be aware, however, that Boards of Education often have much more strict rules for religious conduct in schools. Generally, prayer is allowed in schools, as long as it is student led, and students are able to opt out and it doesn’t provide significant disruption in the school day, like taking a half hour out.

    Here are the guidelines for the Lemon Test, which usually deal with the government funding religious education, which is currently happening in Washington DC. Check out for more information on that.

    1. The government’s action must have a secular legislative purpose;
    2. The government’s action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion;
    3. The government’s action must not result in an “excessive government entanglement” with religion.

  • Aph


    I also attended a elementary school in small town Ohio in the 80’s. Your experience seems pretty similar to mine with the exception of the pastor actually holding bible studies in class.

    I suspect this is pretty common for small town Ohio. I have had the chance to go back to my old elementary for a visit. Same things are still going on now.

  • Femdujour

    Here’s a more recent example: A few months ago, the Episcopal church where I sing had a guest choir for the Sunday morning service. A terrifically talented group from a West Virginia public high school. Apparently the conductor originally forbade the kids to take communion, probably fearing the church/state line. The rector of the church pointed out that all who attend his church are welcome at the communion rail and insisted that the students be allowed. Half the kids did take communion. At the end of the service, the same woman who was so careful before the service took the microphone to thank the congregation. She ended her spiel with “and praise be to Jesus our only Lord and Savior”. I was floored.

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