Matthew LaClair’s Speech: “You Belong In Hell”

If you’re not sure who Matthew LaClair is, you can find out here, here, and here.

In short, Matthew is the high school student who taped his history teacher raving about Creationism, how evolution was untrue, and how non-Christians belonged in hell, among other things.

In 2007, he received a scholarship for student activism from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. He delivered a speech at FFRF’s annual convention where he told his story and shared the lessons he had learned.

This is his speech (originally published in Freethought Today, October, 2007):

Approximately ten miles west of Manhattan is my hometown of Kearny, N.J. A year ago when I received my schedule for junior year, my sister, who was in her freshman year in college, was with some of her friends, who asked me who my teachers were. When I named Mr. Paszkiewicz, Katie’s friends told me that this was a teacher who frequently discussed his politics and his religion in the classroom.

I decided not to pass judgment, so on September 11, 2006, I walked into Mr. Paszkiewicz’s history class with an open mind. The first thing he did was take a roll of tape and start tossing it to each student, and had us toss it back. I thought this was a pretty good way to start a class, and I began to feel a little more comfortable.

Everything changed when he began talking. He was doing exactly what my sister’s friends told me about. He began talking about his personal political and religious opinions. Many of the comments were offensive and I felt very uncomfortable.

After two days of that, I decided that this teacher was out of line and out of control, but I was not sure if anybody would do anything about it.

I did not think that it would be a good idea to tell the administration without concrete proof. Mr. Paszkiewicz had been teaching at Kearny High for many years (14 as it turned out) and had also been a student there, and was a friend of the principal, who had taught him and coached him as a student athlete. Mr. Paszkiewicz made it clear that he was on an evangelical mission to spread the word of God.

Fortunately, I had a device which allowed for audio recording for a long period of time. So starting on Sept. 13, I began recording the classes.

From Sept. 13-15, the class was told that all the biblical prophecies have come true, dinosaurs were on Noah’s ark and all nonChristians belong in hell. He also dismissed evolution and the big bang as nonscientific in favor of biblical creationism, while mocking teachers and scientists who develop and teach these scientific ideas. He said, “I don’t need to go out and slaughter Muslims, I just need to debate them and they’re done.” He said that if his son told him that he did not want to go to church, he would “break his backside, and have a little attitude adjustment.” Meanwhile, when a student told Mr. Paszkiewicz about his own religious beliefs that he got from his mother and his pastor, Mr. Paszkiewicz’s response was “don’t buy it.” Not only was he often hypocritical, but what I have told you is the tip of a very large iceberg.

Each evening as I brought the recordings home, my father’s reaction can best be described as a mix of Jack Nicholson’s and Jim Carrey’s wildest film roles. To paraphrase a few of my dad’s comments, this teacher was out of his. . . well, you can fill in your own words here.

The second week of class I was out sick. I can only imagine what was said during the week I was out. When I returned on Sept. 25, I had written and signed a letter complaining about Mr. Paszkiewicz’s remarks. After I gave the letter to our principal, Mr. Somma, the first thing he did was show it to Mr. Paszkiewicz, along with my signature– not exactly what I had in mind, but I was prepared to do what had to be done.

When class started that day, there was no doubt that Mr. Paszkiewicz had been spoken to. The class, which had grown accustomed to, let’s call them free-flowing discussions, suddenly found that Mr. Paszkiewicz wasn’t willing to speak about those things any more. When one student complained about it, Mr. Paszkiewicz commented that he would like to keep talking about those things, but that if he did, someone might change his words. I had my recorder on that day as well.

I knew I had not changed anybody’s words. In fact, the letter Mr. Somma had shown to Mr. Paszkiewicz included very little of what he had said. Mr. Somma told me that Mr. Paszkiewicz claimed he never said any of the things I wrote in the letter. It appeared as if Mr. Somma was going to take his word, so I requested a meeting with Mr. Somma and Mr. Paszkiewicz. I also requested that my parents be at the meeting, but Mr. Somma refused to allow that, so I had to handle it on my own.

After two weeks, on Oct. 10, the meeting finally took place. Over the course of nearly an hour, Mr. Paszkiewicz would interrupt, harass, bully and intimidate me while Mr. Somma and Ms. Wood, the department head, sat quietly and watched, saying virtually nothing.

I had prepared a list of questions, three pages long, which contained most of the offensive comments Mr. Paszkiewicz had made in class. It didn’t occur to them, I guess, that it was a little unusual for a student to have this detailed and this specific a list of questions. I don’t think I got much past the first page with all the interruptions. As to most of the comments, Mr. Paszkiewicz either denied making them or claimed that I had taken them out of context. He portrayed me as an intolerant and ungrateful student who just didn’t like the issues he was raising, wasn’t open-minded to new information and was trying to ruin his career. He even tried to intimidate me by talking about how he has children and he might lose his job because of me. He also accused me of trying to hurt him on purpose.

So after he denied saying “you belong in hell” for at least the third time, I unzipped my backpack and produced three copies each of two compact discs containing the classroom recordings.

Saying that the tone in that meeting changed at that moment would understate the matter considerably. Now, you would think that if Mr. Paszkiewicz was upset that his comments had been taken out of context, he would be delighted to see that there were recordings of the class that would vindicate him and prove that I was not telling the truth.

That certainly was not his reaction. Mr. Paskiewicz and Mr. Somma immediately started discussing whether the recordings were legal and admissible (I guess they meant in court, although I hadn’t said anything about court), and Mr. Paszkiewicz decided that he should say no more without his union representative. That was excellent self-counsel, which he promptly ignored. The last thing he said in that meeting was, “To be honest with you, Matt, I’m disappointed because I think that you got the big fish. You’re trying to hurt somebody, maybe you are an atheist, you got the big Christian guy that’s a teacher, known and loved for 15 years and I brought him down, that’s my gut feeling.”

After this meeting, I felt terrible. I knew I had to do it, but I still felt bad in some way for Mr. Paszkiewicz. My parents took the matter in hand at that point, with my father writing four letters up the chain of command through the school’s administration and finally to the school board. Our requests were for Mr. Paszkiewicz’s remarks to be corrected, and for teacher training, so something like this would not happen again.

Unfortunately, instead of acting to correct the matter, they all tried to make it go away. For a little over a month, we were basically ignored. What sent us finally over the edge was a telephone conversation, in which the board’s attorney told my father that what went on in my classroom was none of his business.

We had a viable case for violation of my civil rights. In addition to telling me indirectly that I belong in hell, Mr. Paszkiewicz said to me personally and in open class that if I was sincerely seeking, I would give up my religious beliefs and “put my finger in Jesus’ side,” in reference to the apostle Thomas. Not only was he telling me that my religious beliefs were wrong, he was saying that I was insincere and so were my parents. We hoped that the board might do something now.

One of our letters to the administration predicted that if this went public, the headline would be “you belong in hell.” A few days later, on Nov. 15, the Jersey Journal carried a front-page story, with Mr. Paszkiewicz’s photograph and a four-inch headline saying “Hell Bent.” When we saw the page that the story was on, the headline was, “You Belong in Hell.”

The media attention did produce results, but not the results I was looking for. As soon as the story hit the local papers, my classmates started bullying and harassing me and defending the teacher. I would see some of the most intelligent students in the class, students who had acknowledged to me privately that they knew Paszkiewicz was out of line, saying on TV interviews that he had done nothing wrong and that I was to blame for whatever he might have said or done.

The administration knew that I was being harassed verbally and that I was getting threats. To make things worse, Mr. Mooney, the superintendent of schools, was quoted in the Jersey Journal saying that Mr. Paszkiewicz was a wonderful teacher who had done nothing wrong and was only conducting a high level discussion in the context of American history. I’m still not aware of dinosaurs existing during American history, or what is high level about telling high school juniors that they belong in hell, but that is what Mr. Mooney said. While defending the teacher, he said not one word to defend me, even though he knew I was being attacked.

This situation continued for about a month, with local coverage and local outrage but nothing more, and still no action by the Board of Education or school administrators. Obviously their intention was to weather the storm, ride it out and circle the wagons around their teacher and to hell with me, as though I hadn’t already heard that.

Then on Dec. 18, everything changed. The New York Times ran the story, and at that point, no pun intended, all hell broke loose. That evening I was interviewed on Anderson Cooper 360 and two nationally-syndicated radio programs. Within the next three days, I was interviewed on Brian Lehrer’s show and had a full hour on Air America. Someone opened a topic on a local website called Kearny on the Web, and within two days I had more than three hundred messages of support from all over the world. On Jan. 1, the Village Voice ran a piece. Now the issue wasn’t going away.

In mid-January, the Board of Education made things worse and added to the problem. They adopted a new policy prohibiting students from recording their classes without permission from the teacher and notification to all the students. The New York Times picked up that story in early February, because no one in Kearny seemed to realize that the policy had been adopted, including members of the Board and their attorney, who had adopted it.

What finally got the Board moving however, were two events that occurred in mid-February. On Presidents’ Day, we held a well-attended press conference at the Newark offices of the ACLU. Besides the ACLU, our attorneys were there from the firm of Willkie Farr & Gallagher, a major New York City law firm with offices all over the world, and so was a representative from People for the American Way, which was lending assistance. The conference lasted more than an hour, and was covered on all the regional news channels.

The following evening, I spoke at the board of education meeting. Local press covered the meeting, which made the 10:00 and 11:00 news all over the metropolitan region. Mr. Paszkiewicz made his first public appearance and was promptly mobbed by cameras. Mr. Paszkiewicz, his family and his lawyer basically said that I set him up. Mr. Paszkiewicz had just written a letter, which our local newspaper published, denying that he did not tell the truth in that meeting. Since that implied that I was not telling the truth, I had little choice but to tell the Board that I had also recorded the meeting in the principal’s office. To this day, I do not know if the Board has ever listened to the recordings.

In any case, shortly after I gave the Board of Education the recording in the principal’s office, they began negotiating with us. Even though it took two months to do it, we finally settled with them. The terms of the settlement were exactly what we had asked for in October and consequently a little more, because more had happened since October 2006. We agreed that The Anti-Defamation League would come to Kearny High School Sept. 25 to provide in-service training for the teachers on these issues. That happened this past Tuesday. We also agreed that the ADL would come to the high school to educate the students on these issues. I know that it sounded like I was coming to a close here, but no. We found out something else. In July, we found out that the ADL could not do the student training. Now, this by itself is not terrible because we could find another way to accomplish what we wanted. However, the Board of Education did not tell us this. We found out through the ADL. Apparently, the Board attorney was told by the ADL back in February that it was highly unlikely that the ADL could do the student training.

I made phone calls to some people, and they helped me out. I was looking for a speaker or speakers that could do assemblies for the students on these subjects. I was amazed at the help I received and the time in which it was accomplished. Three speakers agreed to speak at my school. And these three people are very qualified in their fields.

Dr. Charles Liu is an associate at the Hayden Planetarium. He is also a professor of Astrophysics at City University of New York. He co-authored a book with Neil deGrasse Tyson. Tyson is the director of the Hayden planetarium and he actually wrote to the New York Times about my story. I asked Tyson if he was available, but he said his schedule was busy, so he asked his friend, colleague and co-author Dr. Liu. Liu said yes, he would speak to the students in February.

Dr. Kenneth Miller is a professor of Biology at Brown University. He wrote the book Finding Darwin’s God and he co-authored multiple high school and college biology textbooks, one of which is actually used in our school. He has given many lectures and has been on many programs; he has even been on Stephen Colbert’s program. He also was the lead witness in the Dover trial two years ago, the intelligent design case in Pennsylvania. He came to speak Oct. 10.

The third person is Rev. Barry Lynn. He is executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. He will be speaking in late November or early December.

Rev. Barry Lynn asked for a $2,000 speaking fee, which is very minimal for his status. Dr. Miller and Dr. Liu both agreed to speak for free. I felt that it was unfair for Dr. Miller and Dr. Liu to do this for free. They are both very important and well-known in science, and it is amazing that they are willing to do this at all.

We proposed these names to the Board of Education and the total price came to $4,000, which is extremely cheap. They refused to pay any speaker even one dollar. So I spoke with Rev. Lynn and he agreed to do it for free.

Now, we will have a good assembly program for the students. The first assembly, ironically, took place on Oct. 10, exactly one year since the meeting in the principal’s office.

Two weeks before the first assembly was to take place, I asked the principal if he had spoken to the person who would set up the projector and microphone for Dr. Miller. He had no idea what I was talking about. Nobody on the Board of Education told the principal who would speak, when they would be speaking, or what they would speak about. All he was told was that assemblies would occur throughout the week. This was another example of the Board putting up more roadblocks for us.

Even though there has been a lot of aggravation and struggle, I think we finally have accomplished what we wanted. We had said all along that we never wanted money from this, that our issues were preserving and defending the Constitution of the United States of America and defending the integrity of education, especially education in the sciences. It took far longer than it should have taken, but we accomplished what we set out to do.

There are many lessons to be learned from this situation. First, our civil liberties are in great danger. Many people in this country appear as if they do not care about them. They have been conditioned to think that civil liberties are liberal dreams and legal technicalities. Many people spoke out for us, but the vast majority of people, especially most of the citizens of Kearny, couldn’t have cared less. If we do not stand up for our civil liberties, we will lose them.

Second, the religious right has no discernible shame or sense of decency. The arguments that were made defending this teacher were and are ridiculous. Some of his supporters would stop at nothing to attack me and defend him. They made up stories about me, based on nothing except their wish to attack me. They reinvented the law to suit their ends. They even denied that Mr. Paszkiewicz had said things that were recorded and were on the Internet for all to hear. Those of us who do not belong to one of the traditional religions must speak out more against the excesses of blind religious fundamentalism. I wish to respect the religious beliefs of others, but it is time that we insist that others also respect other beliefs, other ways of thinking, and the facts.

Third, it is imperative that our citizens develop a better understanding of and respect for the sciences. It is terrible for a community just ten miles west of Manhattan in the 21st century not to understand that evolution is a proven fact. There is no good reason to dismiss two widely accepted scientific theories to promote ancient stories about the creation of the universe in six days. There is no good reason for a tenured public school teacher to use his classroom to undermine the science curriculum. Science, and in particular evolution, are essential to the quality of our lives. Evolution is the foundation of modern biology and the basis for many of the medical treatments that have extended our lives by decades just in the past century or so. Our country is falling behind in the sciences, and we cannot afford to dismiss the integrity of the science curriculum. It is unacceptable for evolution not to be thoroughly taught just because some science teacher is uncomfortable with it, and it certainly is not acceptable for a history teacher to say that dinosaurs co-existed with human beings.

Fourth, my advice to anyone who faces an injustice is, do not be afraid. When you have the truth, you can prevail as long as you can take the heat. I took the heat, and it has made me a better person. It also won me a summer job at a major financial house whose CEO liked what I had done, an introduction to Anderson Cooper to whom I hope to apply for an internship next summer at his suggestion, extensive press coverage, multiple awards and a lot of respect. I skipped my junior prom because I didn’t want to subject myself or anyone I would take there to the abuse I still receive on a daily basis; but after this school year I will attend college, and there are going to be intelligent people who get this, and we are going to have a great time. Be careful, be smart, but don’t back down. Do what is right. If you have chosen wisely and maintain your integrity, the consequences will take care of themselves.

The worst part of this story is that I am here on this stage. Please do not misunderstand me. I am honored to be here, but I am here because what I did is considered extraordinary. I am grateful, but I did no more than what every citizen should do. Every person here can make a difference in their school, job, community and country. If what I did helps to make that happen, it will have all been worth it.

He’s got a good future ahead of him, don’t you think?


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • Susan B.

    Bravo! A major smack in the face for idiocy and dogma–here’s hoping he’ll have great success in college and inspire more people to fight these battles until they’re won!

  • DBayn

    Any news on whether Paszkiewicz is still teaching?

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    Any news on whether Paszkiewicz is still teaching?

    I believe he still is teaching.

  • Graeme

    Great story, well told.

    It amazes me that these fundies will lie and cheat to get their own way. I don’t think the moderates of religion lie and cheat in this manner. It seems to be totally in the way that fundies think – that the means justify the ends. I think that is the big difference between fundies and anyone else.

  • http://daybydayhsing.blogspot.com Dawn

    I think in the end, it wasn’t fundamentalism or some idiot teacher that was the worst part of this. It was a system bent on self preservation even if it meant sacrificing the very student it was supposed to be serving.

  • Renacier

    Of course they wouldn’t fire a good Christian teacher for doing his job, would they?

    Now if it was an atheist teacher overstepping his bounds by forcing his beliefs on a captive audience….

  • Drew

    sighhhhh

    I know this seems like a minor objection, but to me a person’s credibility can be greatly damaged when they start slinging around the phrase “proven fact.” Of course I believe in evolution, of course it’s overwhelmingly supported by evidence, and we’ve seen evolution in progress in viruses and other tiny quickly reproducing creatures. Even so, one of the things that should separate religious nuts from those who understand science is an understanding that “PROOF” is an ideal which can never actually be obtained, a gold standard beyond our reach. Even if it were obtainable, can we at least agree that proof requires direct observation? And of course, I mean direct observation that evolution is the cause of current speciation, not that natural selection occurs.

    This seems like a picky point, but it’s one that deeply affects the way people approach their understanding. The effects of this subtle wrong way of thinking are very pervasive, and I can give you one specific example that should serve to make any atheist more cautious about their language. If we claim that evolution or any other scientific principle or law is a “proven fact,” and we are unwilling to say that it is a “proven fact” that there is no God, we suddenly have put God, in the mind of many people, in a position where he is more likely than many other things, that can be considered “disproven.”

    Put another way, many use the idiotic argument that you “can’t disprove God,” ignoring the fact that God is disproven to the same degree as many ridiculous and unanimously rejected theories. The only reason that God is not disproven is because proof is one step beyond all available evidence, logic, and experience, and is unobtainable. The only way that we can help this argument lose traction is to honor the meaning of the word “proof” and accept that as even our perceptions have some (tiny, almost insignificant) chance of being entirely wrong, we will always be just short of proof– and yet, God is as disproven as most any ridiculous idea man has yet created.

  • QrazyQat

    And of course, I mean direct observation that evolution is the cause of current speciation, not that natural selection occurs.

    Direct observation has shown that evolution via natural selection occurs.

    And good deductions of the past also work as well as direct observation of living, ongoing living things. The idea that direct observation is the only way to determine evolution or evolution via natural selection, and that direct observation hasn’t shown that evolution via natural selection occurs, are both long-discredited creationist talking points.

  • Susan B.

    Drew–
    I too noticed the use of “proven” in the speech, and thought of commenting on it. Yet another sign of why we need to have good science (as well as math, philosophy, and particularly logic) education. I agree it’s an important distinction to make–there are no absolute statements in science; the best we can do is be really, really sure of something, as we are with a number of scientific theories the fundamentalists would argue with. Contrast that with mathematics, where we CAN prove things, but only by first accepting certain statements without proof. Science and math represent two very different, but complemetary, ways of drawing conclusions about the world.
    Adding to the problem with the misuse of the word “proof” is the imprecise language most people use. In everyday speech, it’s quite common to have a “theory” about something that is really only a hunch, or to “prove” something by giving a couple of facts that support the argument. In general, I think it’s fine and appropriate to use these words with their common, as opposed to scientific, meanings. It’s important, however, to teach people that when they’re talking about science and math, they need to use the very precise language of these fields, because they’re talking about very precise concepts that require such distinctions.
    I don’t blame Matthew LaClair for using the word “proven” incorrectly, though–probably a case of him not having learned the distinction in his science classes, if the quality of his history class is anything to go by.

  • Susan B.

    QrazyQat–
    I suspect the kind of “direct observation” being referred to is the very large-scale, unmistakable-even-by-creationists (in fact, the kind of evidence creationists keep asking for) observation of, say, lizards turning into birds over the course of a single lab experiment. The point being that even though we have ample evidence in the form of the fossil record, direct observation of natural selection, mutations, and therefore evolution on a somewhat smaller level, and so on, we simply haven’t got the time to watch the evolution of some fundamentally different species occur before our eyes. But as everyone but a creationist knows, we don’t need to watch monkeys turning into humans over a single generation to be about as sure of evolution as that the earth revolves around the sun.

  • http://www.wordsfromtheway.com/between-the-trees Jake Meador

    Man, that story is both sad and disgusting. As a Christian I’m deeply saddened by the utter disregard for the Constitution as well as the apparent dishonesty of many Christians involved in this story. To my non-religious friends, I’m really sorry. I wish there weren’t people like this out there, but regrettably, there are. :(

  • http://www.runicfire.net ansuzmannaz

    Jake, no need to be sorry. Just route these nutters out of your midst!

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I think in the end, it wasn’t fundamentalism or some idiot teacher that was the worst part of this. It was a system bent on self preservation even if it meant sacrificing the very student it was supposed to be serving.

    I had the same thought too. I’ve seen many school boards, teachers unions, and college administrations act the same way even when the issue had nothing to do with religion.

  • Darryl

    The actions of the administration and this teacher show me clearly that fundamentalism is already discredited in this country; all that remains is the clean-up. Rather than have the balls to stand up for what he said and purports to believe, this teacher denied saying these things. He knows that he has done wrong, and has overstepped the proper bounds of a public school teacher. If he really believed what he said he would stand by his statements and suffer for Jesus. He’s a hypocrite plain and simple. American Christians have become lazy and cowardly. Even the most rabid among them are too fat and comfortable to play the martyr. If it’s not convenient, they’ll pass on it. I believe it was Christ that the Apocalypse had say that some Christians are neither cold nor hot, but lukewarm, and for this reason Christ will spew them from his mouth–that’s what this loser is.

  • QrazyQat

    I know whatcreationists ask for and mean when they talk about “direct observation” and that’s why I think people who aren’t creationists shouldn’t use the phrase like that. Because it’s dishonest, and that’s only part. It’s also because what creationists ask for when they ask that is exactly what you pointed out, and that wouldn’t be evidence for evolution, but extremely powerful evidence against it, since they continually, and seriously, ask for things like a rabbit being born to a cat and such. One can’t stop them from wallowing in their own ignorance, but one can ask others not to join them.

  • Laura

    What a brave and articulate young man.
    I have two little boys. The oldest will start Kindergarten in the fall. To say I’m nervous about what kind of religious nuttery he will encounter within the public school system of our rural central Illinois community is an understatement. I hope I can give my sons the tools to stand up and do what needs to be done, as this young man’s parents clearly gave to him.

  • http://merkdorp.blogspot.com J. J. Ramsey

    Jake Meador: “Man, that story is both sad and disgusting.”

    Well, the teacher’s side of it is sad and disgusting. Matthew LaClair’s side of it was almost elegant. He didn’t rant or make a scene but rather let the evidence paint the picture.

  • Karen

    What a smart, mature and articulate young man! I am so impressed. If we have leaders like Matt coming up the ranks, we’re going to be in great shape for the future.

    Thanks for posting this Hemant!

  • http://www.wordsfromthewya.com/between-the-trees Jake Meador

    JJ- You’re right, and I didn’t mean to discredit Matt LaClair’s side of it because his actions are courageous and commendable. Sorry if I didn’t make that clear in the initial post.

    Laura- It’s interesting to me that you’re concerned about the “religious nuttery” your kids will encounter in the public schools. Growing up in a fundamentalist church, my parents’ friends (I was in the minority of non-homeschooled kids in the church) were concerned about the secular “nuttery” I would hear. I guess a fair bit of your concern is based more on the region in which you live than the public schools, but it’s interesting nonetheless. I hope that they get great teachers and don’t end up in a situation like Matt’s. If it’s any comfort, I’m also a midwesterner and I had some wonderful public school teachers who I now know as friends and as a result of our friendship I now know they are Christians, but I never would’ve known from anything they said in class. I’m actually working with one to help with a class she’s teaching at my university this fall.

    Actually, this makes me think of a question I’ve been thinking about lately. I’m going to be leading a small group with a Christian campus group in the spring semester and we’re talking about Christianity and social justice. One week we’re going to talk about working for the good of the city and one area my campus pastor and I specifically want to address is working for the good of public schools. We’re both frustrated that for many Christians the public schools are either a god-forsaken wasteland or a place to do battle over ridiculous debates about intelligent design, homosexuality, abortion or whatever the right’s latest pet issue is.

    So we want to talk about practical ways we can help the public schools in our city. For those of you who have kids in the public schools, what are the biggest needs that you see? How could college students help meet those needs? This isn’t some back-door attempt to sneak in and proselytize, I promise. We sincerely want to help the public schools in whatever ways we can. (Hemant- I’ve been an on-again-off-again reader here for awhile and I think I read once that you’re a high-school teacher, is that right? Assuming it is, what do you see as the biggest needs in your school and is there anything you wish people in the community would do that might help?)

  • Julie

    How inspiring. There is a teacher where I work who evangelizes and also falls asleep in class. Everyone knows, including the principal. Can’t seem to get rid of the guy. The system really does preserve its own.

  • http://daybydayhsing.blogspot.com Dawn

    //To say I’m nervous about what kind of religious nuttery he will encounter within the public school system of our rural central Illinois community is an understatement.//

    I know of some homeschoolers who choose to homeschool for just that reason.

  • http://skeptigator.com Skeptigator

    To Laura/Jake Meador

    I have 2 boys in elementary school in Northeastern Indiana, and I am also very concerned about religious “nuttery” (I like that word). about the only thing that I have ever seen that bothers me is during open houses and similar things there is always a Boy Scouts booth, but I figure that to say something would be kind of petty and I’d rather focus my attention on any potentially “larger” issues that may arise (I hope not).

    As I am finding out, the best way to find out what is really going on in the school is to get it from your kid. My wife and I have kind of shot ourselves in the foot to some extent by not teaching our kids any religion so they don’t even know when they are being exposed to some of this stuff.

    We have since begun to teach our children a sort of informal “comparative religion” class (ironically it’s typically on Sundays). Now that our kids are more informed they bring home stories that their friends tell them that they think aren’t right. We have begun to use (I believe it was) Sagan’s Baloney Detector metaphor and they will say things like, “Johnny says I will go to hell if I see the Golden Compass but my baloney detector was going off when he said it. I told him I don’t believe him.” (True story, happened over Winter Break).

    Kids are so freakin’ smart when you give them half a chance. I hope my kids are never put in this kids position but if they are I hope they have the courage to do what’s right.

  • http://www.ineedtothink.com Seavee

    Renacier said,

    Of course they wouldn’t fire a good Christian teacher for doing his job, would they?

    Now if it was an atheist teacher overstepping his bounds by forcing his beliefs on a captive audience….

    I believe that Renacier is absolutely right. I teach High School in a small town in Florida. I am positive that despite my good record and qualifications if I were to comment on my atheism to the class, even inadvertently, I would face serious repercussions. I wouldn’t have to discuss it with them. Commenting about it at all would be enough to cause trouble for myself.

    I certainly do not think that I should discuss my personal beliefs in the classroom. Students inevitably ask me and I tell them it is none of their business. My issue is with the double standard. I couldn’t say “I am an atheist,” but if I said “I am a Catholic,” it wouldn’t cause a problem at all.

    Mathew’s situation spotlights the problems with religion in our schools. His situation was extreme but what about the less obvious issues? What can students, parents and teachers do to stop the more subtle influences of religion in our schools?

  • PrimateIR

    I certainly do not think that I should discuss my personal beliefs in the classroom. Students inevitably ask me and I tell them it is none of their business.

    I think a teacher or anyone in a position of authority should state their position frankly if asked. I understand that the political climate forbids this but at the same time I don’t think its possible for a person to operate without there own personal bias.

    The problem with Mr. Paszkiewicz wasn’t that he was Christian. It was that he was a personality disorder. He should not have been aloud to teach.

  • Julie

    The problem with Mr. Paszkiewicz wasn’t that he was Christian. It was that he was a personality disorder. He should not have been aloud to teach.

    Not trying to be obnoxious, but that’s a pretty funny spelling error. It should be “allowed” to teach. But “aloud” to teach is more descriptive of what happened, in a way!

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    The actions of the administration and this teacher show me clearly that fundamentalism is already discredited in this country; all that remains is the clean-up. Rather than have the balls to stand up for what he said and purports to believe, this teacher denied saying these things. He knows that he has done wrong, and has overstepped the proper bounds of a public school teacher. If he really believed what he said he would stand by his statements and suffer for Jesus. He’s a hypocrite plain and simple.

    Excellent point Darryl.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    (Hemant- I’ve been an on-again-off-again reader here for awhile and I think I read once that you’re a high-school teacher, is that right? Assuming it is, what do you see as the biggest needs in your school and is there anything you wish people in the community would do that might help?)

    I’m kind of curious about the answer to this question too, since I happen to know that Hemant works at one of the wealthiest schools in the state :) – though that’s not to say they couldn’t probably still use the support of their community. Nonetheless, there are probably plenty of inner-city Chicago schools that could use it even more.

  • http://dmcleish.id.au Shishberg

    He’s got a good future ahead of him, don’t you think?

    I bloody well hope so. Otherwise we’re all screwed.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    (Hemant- I’ve been an on-again-off-again reader here for awhile and I think I read once that you’re a high-school teacher, is that right? Assuming it is, what do you see as the biggest needs in your school and is there anything you wish people in the community would do that might help?)

    I am a high school teacher and thanks for asking about what the schools need :)

    Mike’s right that I do work in a fairly wealthy district, so we don’t need the sorts of things a lot of public schools could use (volunteer tutors, computers, books). That said, I don’t have wireless internet, a projector, and white boards in all my classes, and modern classrooms should really have all those things.

    Is there anything your group could do? Not so much for our school (thought money and volunteers are always appreciated). There are schools in Chicago that need help much more than we do and I’m sure if you called up the principals and asked what you could do for them, they’d be able to give you a list of things :)

  • Karen

    One week we’re going to talk about working for the good of the city and one area my campus pastor and I specifically want to address is working for the good of public schools. We’re both frustrated that for many Christians the public schools are either a god-forsaken wasteland or a place to do battle over ridiculous debates about intelligent design, homosexuality, abortion or whatever the right’s latest pet issue is.

    So we want to talk about practical ways we can help the public schools in our city.

    Good for you and your group, Jake. I think that’s terrific.

    In terms of what to do, take a look at what the Mormon churches do for the public schools. I dislike much about their church and their theology, but they are right on in their attitudes about supporting public schools (they don’t have religious schools or promote home schooling) and they have done a LOT for the local schools in my town. The Mormon moms are a constant presence on the PTA and on school site committees. The church and their Boy Scout groups are always doing things like painting the campuses, planting trees, doing cleanups over the summer – just practical things that many of the public schools no longer have the funds to do well.

  • The Unbrainwashed

    A question: What effect, if any, will this incident have on his acceptance to college? Will it be looked down on or lauded by the admissions counselors?

    On a related note: When I applied to graduate school, I chose not to include my membership in an Atheist club at my college as part of my application. I figured it wasn’t worth the risk of having a fundamentalist or even a moderate religious person (with a negative view of atheists) notice it. However, my decision was probably overly conservative considering I’m in the sciences and applying to elite Northeastern universities (apparently the bastion of atheism according to Bill O and Fox News).

  • http://www.ineedtothink.com Seavee

    PrimateIR said,

    I think a teacher or anyone in a position of authority should state their position frankly if asked. I understand that the political climate forbids this but at the same time I don’t think its possible for a person to operate without there own personal bias.

    I agree that stating a belief should be allowed. Establishing personal bias is important in most discussions. I just don’t think I should discuss my beliefs in any detail. I might be wrong. I have certainly wavered considerably about what I think is appropriate.

    Teachers have much more influence over their students than the students would care to admit. If I were to discuss my beliefs with them, it would influence them significantly. I am not sure it is my place to do that.

    I am actually struggling with this a lot. I would love to hear some other opinions.

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  • Lauren

    While I agree that this teacher shouldn’t have used the classroom as his personal pulpit, I am disgusted at the behavior of this student as well. He obviously was determined to bring down his teacher, and wouldn’t ease up until his anger was justified in his eyes. He shows no signs of the tolerance of others that he claims was fighting for, instead he shows himself as a hypocrite. He deserves every inch of the crap from other students that he got. No applauses from me for either of them.

    • Edward

      Are you stupid? If, at any time, the teacher or any of the school board members had done what they are constitutionally required to do, the teacher wouldn’t have been “brought down”, such as it was. He didn’t lose his job, wasn’t even reprimanded, and only suffered a little embarrassment because he was revealed to be a liar. The only punishment the teacher suffered was having to receive some extra training. For that, the person that was clearly in the right the entire time deserves to be threatened and bullied?

  • ash

    Lauren, you’re absolutely right, how dare a student fight for his right to a decent unbiased education? how dare a child stand up to an adult and ask not to be preached at, condemned and belittled? how dare he use reasonable, non-violent, non-belligerent means to expose the lies and hypocrisy of his ‘responsible adult’ teacher? you’re absolutely right, and the other students should’ve kicked the crap out of him too. and while we’re at it, rosa parks shouldn’t have been such an angry bitter hater, and she should’ve demonstrated the tolerance she expected from others by just moving her arse off that damn bus.

    [/satire]

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  • Mover

    It is terrible for a community just ten miles west of Manhattan in the 21st century not to understand that evolution is a proven fact.””

    This quote reveals 2 disturbing trains of thought..

    1. He seems to believe the Manhattan is the center of human knowledge.

    An obvious error, and…

    2. That “evolution is a proven fact.”

    FYI: It’s still just a theory.

    This guy, his parents, and the ACLU, lamed out by not making and following through with a demand that the teacher be fired. The teacher’s attempts to pound his vision of his religion into his students completely unacceptable, no matter your belief, or lack there of, in God, or Darwin, for that matter.

    • Rahul

      No, Evolution is a fact. Theory of Evolution is a theory.
      Its like, Gravity is a fact/phenomenon, Theory of Gravity is a theory.

  • Bob Carroll

    Evolution is a fact; it’s been observed. Repeatedly. New species do appear from time to time. The theory of evolution, that is, the explanations provided to account for the observed facts, are not proved or provable. We can establish, however, explanations which are supported by the observed facts, and in S. J. Gould’s phrase, it would be perverse to to reject well established explanations which are supported by the facts.

  • Mover

    “Evolution is a fact; it’s been observed. Repeatedly. New species do appear from time to time.”

    OK, but, “observed facts” do not work when speaking of evolution. There no observed facts to use prior to the keeping of scientific records. The theory of evolution goes a lot further back than the records of observed facts. Each year, scientists find new facts that they observe in their research.

    New species aren’t “new”. They are just new to the scientific community. They’ve been there all along.

    And.. Evolution does not explain how nonliving material, just chemical compounds, became alive. How did that single celled protozoa make that magic happen? How did it learn to reproduce? How did it learn to survive by altering its genes? When did it get genes? Darwin and his followers do say, nor do they even address it, that I’ve found.

    If you, or anyone know where this science can be found, please let me know. Thanks

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  • DanDare

    mover wrote “And.. Evolution does not explain how nonliving material, just chemical compounds, became alive. How did that single celled protozoa make that magic happen? How did it learn to reproduce? How did it learn to survive by altering its genes? When did it get genes? Darwin and his followers do say, nor do they even address it, that I’ve found.”

    Life from non-life is called abiogenesis, and has nothing to do with evolution by natural selection, which is about changes in existing species.

    Darwin did not know about genes. They were a later discovery.

    Watch this vid for a scientific answer to your questions: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6QYDdgP9eg

  • Mover

    I know the theories behind abiogenesis, but they are still just guesses. This feat has not been accomplished in a laboratory.

    I agree that it has nothing to do with Darwinian evolution, which encompasses a little more than just natural selection.

    The problem that many atheists cling to evolution as one of their primary evidences that their is no intelligent hand in the creation of life on Earth (or anywhere else for that matter). SO it calls the entire evolution belief system into question.

    BTW: I am of no particular religion, though I do believe this all wasn’t just an accidental combination of conditions and mutations that brought life to this world.

    Thank you for your remarks.

  • Ohdearoh

    “I know the theories behind abiogenesis, but they are still just guesses. This feat has not been accomplished in a laboratory.

    I agree that it has nothing to do with Darwinian evolution, which encompasses a little more than just natural selection. ”

    So why do you bring it up in the first place?

    “Evolution does not explain how nonliving material, just chemical compounds, became alive.”

    Admit it, your own words, you DON’T KNOW evolution doesn’t deal with origin of life, you ASSUME it did, which someone had corrected you. Anyone who knows that evolution has nothing to do with origin of life, won’t come up with that sentence.

    • Mike

      Silly rabbit. Your arguing that since nobody knows how it happened, it must have been GOD.

      That’s what they said about the wind, rain, earthquakes, tidal waves, the sun rising and setting, the moon, the planets, where babies come from. Basically, anything and everything at some point in time.

      Do I really need to point out how absurd this argument is? We know now how so many natural events happen. Where babies come from. What causes rainbows. (Hint: it’s not God telling us there won’t be another flood, or tsunami.)

      Just because we don’t know how something works or happened doesn’t mean it was caused by God. If you say it is, the burden of proof is on you, not us to prove it isn’t.

  • Mover

    @Ohdearoh,

    I brought up the origins of life for the reason I stated.

    “The problem that many atheists cling to evolution as one of their primary evidences that there is no intelligent hand in the creation of life on Earth (or anywhere else for that matter). So it calls the entire evolution belief system into question.”

  • Chris

    New species aren’t “new”. They are just new to the scientific community. They’ve been there all along.

    Actually- species such as MRSA resistent staph ARE new- and they were created by the process of natural selection- the operative force thought to be behind evolution. In short-lived species such as bacteria and viruses we can see evolution at work. Micro-evolution has been observed and from that we extrapolate that the theory of macro evolution while it cannot be observed by humans can be inferred as true.

  • Katie

    What this article and “speech” does not state it the fact that Matthew Laclair instigated the teacher to talk about religion. Do your research, listen to the tapes. And the teacher also asked the students “does everyone feel comfortable talking about this topic?” If matthew laclair felt like his Constitution al rights were being disregarded he should’ve objected to the topic of conversation that MATTHEW asked the teacher to speak on.  Before you accuse a man of being a horrible teacher or man, do your research. Its ironic how you can all talk in such depth about religion but you are so quick to judge.

    • Mike

       Oh Katie. Don’t you understand that simply by being in the minority, simply having to state he doesn’t want to have this talk in his history class creates an unhealthy situation and puts any non Christian in a position to be abused by the majority?

      The teacher had no business forcing his religion down the throats of others. This is why there is a separation between church and state. Poor poor Katie. Your just a step away from living in a religious dictatorship, like any of a half dozen in the middle east.
      But you just don’t seem to care. I guess it’s OK as long as it’s your religion.

  • Jesus

    I don’t see reason for oppression. Individuals are individuals.


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