Administrators at the Hardin County Schools in Kentucky recently sent a reminder to staff members about the rules regarding religion and politics in the classroom.
They shouldn’t wear clothing promoting their religious or political views (or lack thereof). They shouldn’t include Bible verses as part of a signature line in emails. They shouldn’t lead or participate in prayers with students. They should be careful what they post publicly on Facebook, especially if their pages list the District as their place of employment, since it could be perceived as government promotion of their views.
All of this was merely a reiteration of existing law. It was meant to help the District avoid lawsuits they would inevitably lose. Superintendent Teresa Morgan summed it up very well: “Quite honestly, it’s not a change.”
The reminder came after the Kentucky State Director of American Atheists sent a letter to all districts about the importance of adhering to the law when it came to church/state separation.
None of this should have been controversial.
Some teachers, however, felt Morgan’s reminder was stifling their free speech. Somehow. Because they’re ignorant of how the law works. Teacher Tiffany Spratt said the rules “challenge her Constitutional rights.” Tiffany Spratt is wrong. Tiffany Spratt doesn’t understand she can still be a Christian. Tiffany Spratt is confused on the difference between promoting God in the classroom and believing in God privately.
She’s welcome to post about her love of Jesus on Facebook, for example, as long as it’s very clear those are her personal views and not a statement she’s making on behalf of the school.
But things took a really strange turn this week when Bill Bennett, an Elizabethtown City Council member, threatened to withhold support for any funding that benefits the District unless they rescinded the policy. In a now-deleted post made on Facebook, he wrote in response to Spratt’s comments:
… [Hardin County Schools] is needing financial assistance for future projects. In light of their misguided interpretation of the First Amendment, I will vote no for any expenditures towards HCS until they rescind this gross interpretation to the freedom of religion clause.
So he’s threatening local public schools all because the superintendent reminded everyone how the law works…?
What does he expect? Even if she takes her letter back (which wouldn’t even make sense), the law is still in effect. If teachers break the rules, the District could be sued. So Bennett is effectively telling the District to break the law or else he won’t support funding them.
It’s a political threat that only makes sense if Christian supremacy via the government is your end goal.
What sort of funding would Bennett block? Here’s an idea:
… While the school district and city government are unrelated government entities, HCS has approached Elizabethtown about establishing a city street between property acquired for a new middle school off New Glendale Road and desires an extension of city utilities along Bardstown Road where it plans to construct a new elementary school.
These are non-partisan issues. But Bennett wants to hold students hostage unless the administrators allow teachers to illegally promote Christianity in the classroom — or when they might reasonably be seen as representatives of the District.
This became a bigger story after Brittany Pike brought it to people’s attention. (Her husband is the KY director of American Atheists, though that’s irrelevant when it comes to the point she’s making.)
“If he is voting, it should be in the interest of the students… not about the stance the school has taken… which is separation of church and state,” [Pike] said in a phone interview Thursday.
She’s absolutely right about all of that. Elected officials should vote for or against a policy on its merits, not because an administrator did something they don’t like.
If there’s any good news here, it’s that even the other city council members think this is absurd. There are six council members and the mayor, and Bennett seems to be on his own here.
“I think a majority of the council will be willing to work with the schools,” [Mayor Edna Berger] said.
Councilman Marty Fulkerson said he has no plans to support Bennett’s position.
“I told him this morning, you’re confused about what your job is,” Fulkerson said. “If you don’t like the policies of the Hardin County Schools, you need to run for the school board.”
So Bennett’s threat won’t go anywhere. But it’s still disturbing that an elected official would refuse to support students unless the District allows Christians to break the rules — since that’s really what this is all about.
(Screenshot via Facebook. Thanks to everyone for the link)