Excellent news! The parents of a sixth grade student in Louisiana whose teacher made fun of him because he is Buddhist have won their lawsuit against the school district.
In the past, Rita Roark had told her students that the universe was created by God about 6,000 years ago and informed them that both the Big Bang theory and evolution are false. She told her students that, “If evolution was real, it would still be happening: Apes would be turning into humans today.”
This level of ignorance makes me wonder if this woman is actually a credentialed teacher.
One test she gave to students asked: “ISN’T IT AMAZING WHAT THE _____________ HAS MADE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” The correct answer was “Lord,” but one child, known simply as “C.C.,” wrote in something else.
When informed that C.C. was a Buddhist and therefore didn’t believe in God, Roark allegedly responded, “you’re stupid if you don’t believe in God.”
When Scott and Sharon Lane, C.C.’s parents, confronted Sabine Parish Superintendent Sara Ebarb about the incidents, she allegedly told them “this is the Bible belt” and that they “shouldn’t be offended” to “see God here.” Ebarb advised that C.C. should either change his faith or be transferred to another district school where “there are more Asians.”
The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana filed a federal lawsuit in January against Negreet High School in Sabine Parish on behalf of the Lanes and their son.
Thankfully, Judge Elizabeth Foote of the U.S. District Court, Western District of Louisiana sided with C.C. and his parents, citing that both Roark’s behavior and the school’s decision to defend it clearly violated “the Free Exercise and Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”
Judge Foote wrote that “[t]he District and School Board are permanently enjoined from permitting School Officials at any school within the School District to promote their personal religious beliefs to students in class or during or in conjunction with a School Event.” Furthermore, “School Officials shall not denigrate any particular faith, or lack thereof, or single out any student for disfavor or criticism because of his or her particular faith or religious belief, or lack thereof.”
Too bad that Rita Roark did not lose her job over this incident. Clearly, some people who call themselves teachers should not be allowed anywhere near young people.
As a teacher with many years of experience, I am ashamed but also angry when I read of fellow teachers behaving in such a narrow-minded and cruel way. Teaching should be about helping kids fulfill themselves, not about putting them down and making them feel bad.
As Heather L. Weaver, senior staff attorney for the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, put it: “The treatment this child and his family have endured is not only disgraceful, it’s unconstitutional.”
“Public schools should be welcoming places for students of all backgrounds,” said Marjorie Esman, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana. “No child should be harassed and made to feel like an outsider in his own classroom, and students should not have to endure school officials constantly imposing their religious beliefs on them while they are trying to learn.”
In case you’re wondering how a public school, funded by tax dollars can be pushing one religion, you should know that this situation is not unusual in Louisiana. Last year, the state decided to fix its failing public education system by offering parents vouchers to nearby private schools instead. Many of these schools are private religious institutions, meaning that other non-Christian students may find themselves having to sit through classes that criticize homosexuality and evolution, classes that are funded by tax dollars.
Perhaps Louisiana should take a look at schools in Ireland: a major change to the primary curriculum will occur in September 2014. Beginning at age 4, children will receive instruction in atheism, agnosticism and humanism as part of their ethics and belief systems alongside studies of other religions. The courses will be offered as part of the curriculum in non-denominational schools and will also be available online and via apps for those who attend other schools.
Meanwhile, Rita Roark will keep spouting her creationist beliefs as the truth. Too bad for those poor sixth graders, who may take quite some time to discover they have been lied to.
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