A Utah teacher’s religious faux pas got her in trouble last week, when she asked a student to wipe off the ashes on his forehead… which he had on in observance of Ash Wednesday.
William McLeod was the only student in his Valley View Elementary School class with the ashes on, and he explained to his classmates that it was a religious symbol meant to bring him “closer to God.”
The teacher told McLeod it was inappropriate and to go take it off.
His attempt to explain the meaning of the symbol fell on deaf ears.
“She took me aside and she said you have to take it off. So, she gave me a [disinfecting] wipe and she made me wipe it off,” he said.
It’s unclear if all of this was the result of anti-religious animus or religious ignorance. If it’s the latter, as school officials are certainly implying, then what did the teacher think William was doing? He said he tried explaining it to her and she wasn’t receptive… but we don’t know what the conversation actually sounded like.
Whatever the reason, the school acted quickly to resolve the situation:
Later in the day, McLeod received candy and a handwritten message from his teacher.
“It said William I am so sorry I hope we can move things from here,” McLeod said.
It’s the right move. In addition to the message, the principal also called William’s family to apologize. They publicly admitted what happened is unacceptable and that an investigation will take place with possibly disciplinary action awaiting the teacher if warranted. I’m not sure what else anyone could ask for at this point.
This whole debacle is a reason to support religious education in schools — strictly from an educational (and not evangelistic) standpoint, and not only about the Christian faith. William’s explanation for why he was wearing the ashes wasn’t preachy. It was honest and matter-of-fact. As far as religious freedom goes, he did nothing wrong.
Let’s hope the teacher had her own teachable moment.