Usually, public school teachers can get away with wearing a crucifix necklace or hijab if they want to because it’s not considered distracting. It’s an expression of their faith, but neither one of those things suggests any sort of proselytizing.
Rev. George Nedeff, who just got approved as a substitute teacher in West Virginia’s Wood County Schools, wants to take it a huge step forward:
Nedeff, who is a member of the religious order SOLT, the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, wears a gray ankle-length habit as a representation of the order and his vows. Nedeff also wears a crucifix and a rosary.
“I am a priest. I am proud of it,” he said Wednesday. “I’m proud of the religious order I’m part of, and this is my life now.”
Not only is this crossing every line, Nedeff doesn’t even try to hide the fact that he plans to discuss his faith with the students:
“The students are going to want to know about me,” he said. “I’ll probably introduce myself and give a little talk about myself, what led me to this point, what led me to become a priest.”
But Nedeff said he feels students may benefit from having a man of faith in their schools.
“I’ve read and seen in the news terrible violence that has taken place in schools,” he said. “I think the students would have a sense of reassurance by having a religious priest substituting in their schools.”
It’s not reassuring at all when the students aren’t Catholic.
Can you imagine the outcry if a Muslim imam (dressed as such) was in front of a classroom? Or if an outspoken atheist wore a shirt reading “God’s a myth”? Or an evangelical teacher’s clothing included the message “Jesus will save you”?
It’s all distracting and that’s why it shouldn’t be allowed.
The administrators are trying to walk a fine line, between allowing legal religious expression and not promoting a particular religion in school:
Kristin Anderson, executive director of communications for the West Virginia Department of Education, said there is no state code which specifically allows or prohibits the wearing of religious vestments in a classroom.
However, Anderson said three pieces of federal code provide conflicting guidance on the issue.
“Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers, including schools, to reasonably accommodate the religious practices of an employee, unless doing so would create an undue hardship on the employer,” she said. “Yet public schools must also comply with the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which prevents employees from advocating a particular belief system in front of students.”
If Nedeff can’t separate his faith from his job in the classroom, then he shouldn’t be substituting in the district. He needs to find a Catholic school where his clothing will be tolerated. Any reasonable person seeing him in the classroom would assume he’s preaching his faith. I don’t see how he’s legally allowed to be teaching when his first priority in school is to express his faith.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Scott for the link)