Putting a Stop to a Public School Preacher

After posting a lot about schools in which teacher-preachers aren’t really punished, it’s nice to hear about schools where incidents like these are put to rest immediately.

Reader Andrew shared this story with me via email. It takes place during his senior year of high school in 2002:

I was taking two periods of band, one in the morning and one later in the day…

We had a sub in band that day. Usually that meant that we had an hour of freedom to do homework, but this guy stood up at the front of the classroom and started talking to the class about his life and work he did helping prison inmates while doing little magic tricks. Eventually it became clear that the “work” he did with inmates was preaching to them [and] he started doing the same in the band class.

I pretended to read a book and held my tongue while he preached the gospel, but as soon as the bell rang I went down to the principal’s office. He was out but the assistant principal came out to talk to me and I gave her a quick rundown of the situation. Her eyes widened when she heard that he was preaching and she said, “That’s not right. I’ll take care of this,” and marched out of the office and down to the band room.

I had a second band class later that day. The sub was still there, but this time he just did a quick magic show with no mention of religion. I asked the assistant principal about it later and she said that he wouldn’t be back after her discussion with him.

I went to school in a small town in Indiana where religion is generally considered as American as baseball and apple pie, but the assistant principal knew what the law was and reacted as soon as a I let her know what was going on with a minimum of fuss. I thought my story might be heartening given some of the horror stories that I’ve seen high school students endure. People shouldn’t be afraid of speaking out when they see this sort of thing, and they might even be pleasantly surprised at the response they get.

All it takes for this kind of proselytization to stop is a student willing to speak up, even anonymously. There’s no reason anyone should be able to preach their religion at a public school without fearing some sort of non-divine punishment.

  • Rebecca

    Ah! I love happy endings!

  • http://www.eurovisionamerica.com Michael (SQFreak)

    This is absolutely true. Most of the time, administrators know the law and don’t know what’s going on in their own classrooms. I know that the ACLU, at least here in North Carolina, has many issues of sectarian prayer in public school classrooms that are resolved by a phone call to the school board attorney. The teachers may not know it’s wrong, but the people higher up do, and they will correct wrong behavior. It’s what happened here, and it’s what will happen most places. Sometimes, it won’t work, and things descend into fights and lawsuits, but usually, saying, “Do you know x is doing y?” solves the problem.

  • Kellen

    I’m a Christian, and I do not think that what this sub was doing is right. Secular school, especially band, is not the place where religion should be taught.

  • Ben

    Non-divine punishment is the only kind there really is.

  • Mej

    That was satisfying.

  • http://onestdv.blogspot.com OneSTDV

    I went to school in a small town in Indiana where religion is generally considered as American as baseball and apple pie

    I know it’s the law and everything, but aren’t there bigger fish to fry than a band class in a Midwestern town with less than 10,000 people?

    In the end, it’s just bothersome. People are going to step over the line because religion is such an important aspect of American life; atheists need to focus on the separation of church and state in large contexts, not merely agitating individuals in small communities where 99% of the people are Christian believers.

  • Rieux

    All it takes for this kind of proselytization to stop is a student willing to speak up, even anonymously.

    Well, in this case that’s all it took. If the school administration had been craven and/or religiously corrupt, the speaking-up remedy wouldn’t have been effective, of course.

    It’s a happy story and a happy fact that the assistant principal was properly responsive to the problem. That’s just not always the case—and then we have to resort to “cut it out or we’ll sue” letters from the ACLU, and so on.

    Good that this story ended the way it should have.

  • Rhodent

    OneSTDV: What are these “large contexts”? I would argue that ANY violation needs to be addressed. When you don’t speak up about little things like this, then people who don’t respect SOCAS just become bolder.

  • Min

    I know it’s the law and everything, but aren’t there bigger fish to fry than a band class in a Midwestern town with less than 10,000 people?

    Are you saying that the smaller fish shouldn’t be fried? Should we only bother prosecuting criminals that have committed manslaughter or worse?

    In the end, it’s just bothersome. People are going to step over the line because religion is such an important aspect of American life; atheists need to focus on the separation of church and state in large contexts, not merely agitating individuals in small communities where 99% of the people are Christian believers.

    For one, statistically, far fewer than 99% of people are Christians, even in smaller communities, unless you’re looking at a sample size so small that it’s not statistically significant. Given that it sounds like it took this student all of a few minutes to make a complaint, what do you think he could have done during that time that would have helped the “large contexts” instead?

  • Nakor

    I’m not even sure how “There are bigger fish to fry” applies to this situation, considering the problem was solved quickly and without any pain. No wasted effort or expenses here — it was a story about a child who was preached to by a teacher, mentioned it to the assistant principle, and it was dealt with quickly and correctly.

    It’s just a nice good-news story for a change, about how sometimes things can go right, right off the bat.

  • http://yetanotheratheist.net Yet Another Atheist

    I hate the “bigger fish to fry” argument. Especially when it comes to things like the Pledge of Allegiance, our national slogan, or “God” on our currency. Those ARE big fish. EVERY violation of SOCAS, EVERY violation of personal liberties, EVERY intrusion of religion into secular matters is a “big fish” and must be dealt with.

    If you think otherwise, then you’re simply an enabler and are part of the problem.

  • http://amandamccarter.wordpress.com Amanda McCarter

    Excellent! I heard the best quote a few days ago, can’t think of from whom though. “Keep your religion out of my state and I’ll keep my state out of your religion.”

  • what?

    I agree with the previous posters that the “bigger fish” argument is a red herring (sorry, I had to.) Here’s another way to look at it:

    School attendance is mandated by the state. Class attendance is mandated by the school administrators. Therefore, the state is essentially forcing a student to attend the “sermon.” THAT is what makes preaching teachers a serious SOCA violation.

  • http://onestdv.blogspot.com OneSTDV

    Are you saying that the smaller fish shouldn’t be fried? Should we only bother prosecuting criminals that have committed manslaughter or worse?

    So you’re saying cops should target high school kids with a bag of weed as much as people bringing it in by the boatload?

    Yes, he’s breaking the law, but you can’t win them all. Given that this is a very small community with an exceedingly large majority of believers, it has very little positive consequence to make a big deal out of it.

    Now in this case, it was very simple to solve; many other times, such as short prayers at graduation, it really just pisses people off.

  • Eskomo

    OneSTDV
    Are you saying cops should completely ignore high school kids with weed and only look for the boatload of weed?

    This topic is showing that lawyers and courts don’t have to be involved in every case. Just an individual pointing out that something incorrect has occurred.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/ChristopherTK ChristopherTK

    Celebrating a victory righting a wrong is so much better then complaining about a separation of church/state defeat — no matter how big or small.

    In other news…

    http://foundationbeyondbelief.org/node/684

    351 contributions, $19,086 for Japan.

  • Kevin S.

    Actually, I would argue that cops should ignore high school kids with weed. But then again, weed is relatively harmless. Also, this student isn’t a cop, or any kind of big-gun equivalent among those who strive for SOCAS. If individual people refuse to do the right thing on the micro level, it’s very hard to get any kind of macro level momentum going.

  • stoptheepisdpreacherteacher

    family member is a sub teacher at el paso isd irvin high school. posted on facebook that she looks forward to her sub days there so she can witness! friends/fam tell her not to. but she insists that she can if they ask. every other word is “God” “Bless” etc… isn’t this prohibited? i don’t understand why no one at the school will stop her.


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