Georgia Public School District: Students Must Have ‘Respect for the Creator’

The Columbia County School System in Georgia says right on its website that it “does not discriminate on the basis of sex, age, race, handicap, religion, or national origin in any of its educational programs, services or activities, admission to facilities or employment practices.”

But then someone needs to explain why the elementary, middle, and high schools (PDFs) all have a Code of Conduct (which all students must sign) that suggests “Respect for the Creator” is a part of “Character Education”:

Apparently, both the local and state school boards approved that as a character trait back in 1997.

In 2000, the issue of whether this was unconstitutional was raised.

The Freedom Forum Online that teaching the creator curriculum would illegally promote “religion to a captive audience of school children.”

Schaeffer and Mincberg sent a letter to the school board July 17 calling the curriculum an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.

“There can be no legitimate question that teaching students to have ‘respect for the creator’ endorses religion over nonreligion and crosses the required line of government neutrality toward religion,” the letter states. “It would be difficult to imagine a greater violation of freedom of conscience than the government’s instructing children that they should hold particular religious beliefs as a matter of good character.”

Unfortunately, Kathryn L. Allen, the Senior Assistant Attorney General at the time, said “Respect for the Creator” was perfectly fine:

Although inclusion of the trait “respect for the creator” in the character curriculum does not have the historic acceptance accorded to the national motto, it appears not to have a religious effect, especially as interpreted by the State Board’s “Values and Character Education Implementation Guide.” It does not endorse any particular theory of creation, nor does it disparage those who do not hold a belief in creation…

In the issue at hand, there is some consistency between the respect for the creator value and some religious beliefs. However, in my view those similarities are not sufficient to generate a finding that the statute is unconstitutional, to conclude it has the principal or primary effect of advancing or inhibiting religion as prohibited in Lemon, or to conclude that the statute endorses some religious views over others as prohibited in County of Allegheny v. ACLU, 492 U.S. 573, 592-93 (1989).

I have reviewed the legislative history of the statute and I find no evidence of a religious purpose…

I was going to suggest calling school officials and calmly pointing out the problem here, but it’s obvious that they know full well what the problem is and they have no plans to do anything about it.

Time to alert FFRF. I’ll take care of that… (***Update***: They’re looking into this.)

(via Reddit — Thanks to everyone for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    What about the ACLU?

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    What about the ACLU?

  • Anonymous

    Absolutely a 3.

    It does not endorse any particular theory of creation, nor does it disparage those who do not hold a belief in creation

    Why are they making this about creationism? And when in the history of time has there been a “theory of creation”? Anyway, the endorsement of religion over nonreligion is obviously unconstitutional. This also endorses monotheism over polytheism, since it endorses THE Creator. The notion that you have to name the god of a particular faith in order to step on law is as absurd as the notion that they didn’t have a particular god in mind when they wrote that.

    I have reviewed the legislative history of the statute and I find no evidence of a religious purpose

    Some lies are so transparent they leave you wide-eyed and dumb-struck. I would love to hear her try to explain (read: lie by the seat of her pants) what purpose could possibly be meant by “respect for the Creator” if it’s not a religious one.

    • Bryan

      Agreed. 

      “It does not endorse any particular theory of creation…”

      Obviously this promotes a specific “theory of creation:” if there’s a capital C Creator, that implies a creator God who spun the cosmos out of nothing.  No, not religious at all…

      “…nor does it disparage those who do not hold a belief in creation.”

      The very fact that this is on a “character education” form that lists a bevy of other “desirable” qualities (patriotism and cheerfulness aside) implies that those who do not “respect the Creator” are either lacking in character or have bad character.  How is that not disparaging those people?

      Ugh.

  • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

    “Respect for the Creator” has no religious purpose? Soon they’ll be telling you “Under God” in the Pledge is a reference to Darwin.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      It doesn’t appear to have any purpose but a religious one. And if it ever goes to court, protesters will be picketing outside the courthouse with signs saying “Keep God in our skoolz.” Meanwhile, inside the judges and half the lawyers will be giving the old wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

  • Anonymous

    Fools. They could’ve just said, “oh, that just refers to the creator of this character trait list.”

    Also, Cheerfulness? Virtue? Creepy as hell.

    • Mr Ed

      This is a school so the creator obviously refers to the whole pantheon of architects, engineers and sub-contractors who created the school.

      I’m sure that some snarky punk (this is a virtue to me) could devise a mock religion based on the building construction.  I won’t be in next Friday as it is the blessed day of must useful wiring.

  • Eivind Kjorstad

    Several of these are utterly unacceptable in such a list, as promoting a certain kind of person as good and by implication, others as bad. Respect for the Creator, is the worst one. But what is the logic of demanding that students be “patriotic” ? Does that mean one *must* be convinced of the superiority of ones own country ?

    How about cheerfulness ? Is it a bad thing to be a serious kind of person ? Says who ? Ain’t it absurd to have to sign an agreement promising to be cheerful ? Do I get an exception if my best friend dies of leukemia — can I indulge in a few days of less cheerfulness then, or would that get me expelled for violation of code of conduct ?

    And how about those who aren’t by nature very brave ? Can I go to this school even if I’m more the nervous type ? Is it *really* a violation of the code of conduct to be scared ?

    Several others are meaningless: “virtue” ? A virtue is defined as “A quality considered morally good or desirable in a person” – but this says nothing by itself, without specifying what qualities *are* considered good or desirable. “Tolerance” ? You’re supposed to be tolerant of what ? And how ? Does this rule contradict all the other rules ? How does it work out with, for example, tolerance for atheists to require people to show “Respect” to “the creator” ?

    • http://www.bricewgilbert.blogspot.com Brice Gilbert

      My thoughts exactly. 

      I also have never bought (despite some courts allowing it) this non-specific religious language being okay. It’s still religion to someone. It certainly isn’t Buddhism or Scientology. They are tipping their religion specific preference hand right there.

    • Gus Snarp

      You didn’t even mention “school pride”. Since when is pride a virtue, and why is it a mark of character to be proud of one’s school, let alone one to be enforced from above?

    • http://www.facebook.com/ryder.ramirez Ryder Ramirez

      Gotta love how it says Equal Opportunity System right underneath that ridiculous list.

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    It looks like they are trying to use some of the language of scouting as a model for their public school system. 

    Boy Scout Oath or Promise:
    On my honor, I will do my best To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.

    Boy Scout Law:
    A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.

    The rub is that the courts have so far ruled that scouting can get away with using such religious language because they are a private group and receive no public money.  The last I checked, the public school system is publically funded.

    • Anonymous

      hehe… you said “doody.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jim-Charlotte/100001257871259 Jim Charlotte

    I’d let it slide if they changed it from “creator” to the personified “Mother Nature.” Cause, that’s what they mean, right? And not Christian Allah or whatever?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Amy-Caswell/100000705227820 Amy Caswell

      The one below it says “respect for the natural environment.”

  • Anonymous

    Being the smart ass kid that I was I would totally go out of my way to twist that “creator” bit into something like, “yes, I greatly respect the creators of Star Wars, and South Park.”

  • Johannsone

    My favorite item on the list: Equal Opportunity System

  • Erp

    This seems to be state legislature so the school board may have its hands tied a bit except in how they teach it.  Requiring parents and kids to sign off could be a step too far and is not what the attorney general is commenting on.

    The actual description of the standard is as follows:

    Respect for the creator: our most basic freedoms and rights are
    not granted to us from the government but they are intrinsically ours; i.e., the
    Constitution does not grant Americans the right of freedom of speech, it
    simply recognizes that each of us is born with that right. This is to say that the
    founders of the republic recognized a higher authority, a power greater than
    themselves that endowed every human being with certain unalienable rights
    that no government or legal document could ever revoke or take away. In the
    Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson names this life force that
    permeates the universe and from which our unalienable rights stem the
    “creator”, “nature’s God”, and the “supreme judge of the world”. If we are to
    respect life, the natural rights of all people and the authority which the
    founders based their legal opinions on concerning our separation from Great
    Britain then there must be a respect for that creator from which all our rights
    flow. This cannot be interpreted as a promotion of religion or even as a
    promotion of the belief in a personal God, but only as an acknowledgment that
    the intrinsic worth of every individual derives from no government, person or
    group of persons, but is something that each of us is born with and which no
    thing and no one can ever deprive us of.

    Personally respect for innate rights is what their evidence supports since the Declaration was more interested in that than why we have them (we can go on to a discussion about whether rights are innate). 

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=719095026 Zach Johnson

      That’s actually a reasonably good explanation, and I can see what the attorney general is driving at there.  I could almost get on board with that if it were worded as “respect for human rights” instead of the creator nonsense.

    • Parse

      This really just means that the problem is with the statute (and not with the school board).  It still exists, it just means there’s a different target.
      And I can’t be the only one who finds “This cannot be interpreted as a promotion of religion or even as a promotion of the belief in a personal God“  hilarious.  “It can’t be a promotion of religion, because it says it isn’t!”

    • Anonymous

      Wow… they saw to it that that phrasing can’t be argued with, didn’t they.  That’s a nudge-nudge, wink-wink to all the believers.  WE know it means the Christian God, but we’ve said it’s not a promotion of such, so we’re in the clear.  Very clever… WRONG, but very clever.

  • Matto the Hun

    Kathryn L. Allen, another Liar for Jesus. She knows good and damn well “respect for the creator” is religiously loaded. 

    It amazes me (it really shouldn’t at this point but it does) how perfectly happy the religious are to blatantly lie all over the place when they are trying to assert their religion on everyone else.

  • Josh

    I’d like to point out that the “character education” thing is pretty funny in light of the something like 200 GA school teachers currently being investigated for long-term, systematic cheating on standarized tests.

  • Anonymous

    “Respect for the Creator” in a Christian area is a non-religious value in the same sense as “Respect for the Prophet” would be in a Muslim one. In theory, it could apply to only a few religions, but in practice everyone knows that it refers to a particular one. Either way, it’s obvious that the school district either doesn’t care about families not in Abrahamic traditions, or is intentionally snubbing them.

  • Anonymous

    I have respect for Einstein, Edison, Mozart, and the like.  Without the creator, our arts, sciences, and engineering would not advance.  
    Too bad the school district used an upper case C.

  • Peggercarb

    I never have problems w/sayings like ‘respect for the creator’ – because my CREATOR was my MOTHER!  And yes, I have respect for her.  I would just neatly pencil that in as creator/my mother.

  • T-Rex

    Since our creator was the sun, what’s wrong with having respect for ol’ Sol? While this “contract” is quite pointless and unnecessary, “Creator” is a very vague term as it is utilized here. Creator and encompasses pretty much anyone or anything that can create another thing. My wife and I have created 3 children so we too are creators by that definition. Unless they mention a specific “creator” from a particular religion, this is another non-issue that makes us look bad by pursuing it. I’m really getting tired of atheist organizations picking fights that are irrelevant and/or give us bad PR. 

    • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

      Are you serious? No, I mean it, are you being serious, or some kind of Poe? It’s mind-numbingly obvious what “Creator” means in this case, especially when it’s worded as “the Creator”. It implies one supreme creator, which is obviously the Christian God. If that isn’t obvious to you, then you really need to reflect on why you’re being so obtuse. EVERY fight is worth fighting when it’s a constitutional issue. Otherwise, you obviously don’t care about the Constitution and about taxpayer dollars being used to push a religious agenda.

    • Valhar2000

      In that case you’re gonna need a lot of rest. I suggest that you waste no more time posting comments and go to sleep instead.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t see this as irrelevant.  This is precident setting and should be eliminated.  I don’t believe in any type of creator.  Whether we are stardust or evolved from single-celled critters, there is no creator.  Period.  And having children pledge to respect one is religion-based proseletizing which is not allowed for school-related materials.  They can have “respect for their creator” in their churches and homes, but not in schools.

    • Fraterii

      I live in Georgia, and to be honest these people try to control everything they can here. We need every victory we can get here.

    • Fraterii

      I live in Georgia, and to be honest these people try to control everything they can here. We need every victory we can get here.

    • Some Lady

       Yeah, I live in Georgia and they mean the Christian “Creator.”  The audacity of these people knows no bounds, I assure you.

  • Anonymous

    Even putting aside the irreligious, not every religion has a creation myth and a creator. When I was religious, the myth I preferred was one of a generatrix. I can’t imagine the Georgia public schools would have been okay with that

  • Parse

    While it’s true that ‘Creator’ is a general term, the problem is the two-faced nature in which it’s used; it’s a lot like ‘intelligent designer’ in that method.
    When asked by neutral or hostile parties, people who are arguing for the use of ‘creator’ (henceforth called ‘creatorists’) fall back on the myriad of possible meanings.   It could refer to nature, the big bang, evolution, your personal deity, a deistic-type god, your parents, the stardust that condensed to form Earth, anything – but because there’s so many possible interpretations, it shouldn’t be taken as a religious phrase.
    Put those ‘creatorists’ in front of a friendly audience, and the mask slips.  “Well, the movement as a whole says that ‘creator’ could mean anything, but I personally believe that it means the God of the Bible.”  The problem is that everybody who cares about adding this phrase also shares that same view.  The ‘other interpretations’ are just a smokescreen, to try to sneak the phrase past constitutional tests.  Nobody pushing ‘Respect for the Creator’ actually believes it could mean anything else.

  • Annie

    “Respect for THE Creator” makes it pretty clear they have only one in mind, not that saying “respect for A creator” would be less wrong, but at least it would be more inclusive.    The “creativity” one baffles me too. 

  • Bill M.

    I can not log on to the Columbia County School System website.  Does anyone else have this problem.  Is their site suddenly down for some reason?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Amy-Caswell/100000705227820 Amy Caswell

    If my kids were going to that school and I had to sign that I would just get a black marker and mark through the ones on the list that I don’t agree with. It’s not the school’s job to teach my kids how to be a good person–that’s my job. So I would mark out the “creator” line, patriotism, school pride, and probably the virtue one (just because that one doesn’t make any sense). I would probably include a note on the back explaining why I marked those entries off of the list.

  • Lupita

    for those who have a problem with ‘pride of school’, I think this just means ‘take care of your school’. Like when people say you should take pride in yourself it just means to take care of yourself.

    And definitely anyone that says there is no religious connotation to the creator comment is either being dishonest or unwilling to see the obvious.

  • Tom

    The capital “C” is quite important here due to the phrasing; if it weren’t there, one could take linguistic refuge in asserting one has “respect for the creator” in the same way as one can have respect for “the poet” or “the engineer,” which is a slightly archaic but quite valid way of saying “anyone who does those things.”  I would never say I respect the Creator, but I cheerfully and sincerely say I respect the creator; that is, I respect those people who create things.
    Indeed, I’d say that respect for the creator, as opposed to The Creator, is vitally important in modern society, which consists almost entirely of created things.  Take last week’s wanton pillaging in the UK – I can’t help but feel that if more people had respect for, or even the dimmest awareness of just how hard it is to create things (even very simple things, let alone the likes of luxury HDTVs) then at least some might be a little less inclined to steal them without a second thought for all the uncompensated labour that went into them.

    It’s worth mentioning that even if an omnipotent, omniscient Creator did exist, it’d be exempt from my list of respected creators.  I respect the skill, effort and dedication it takes for human beings to create all the fantastic things that we have – it is, for want of a better word, miraculous that we now can, for example,

    have food whenever we want it (and such food!);
    have shelter and clothing whenever we want it (and such shelter!  such clothes!);
    fly;place objects on other planets;speak in a normal voice and be heard on the other side of the world;see things on the other side of the galaxy;see individual atoms;take someone apart while they’re still alive, repair them and then put them back together again without them even feeling any pain;

    and we started it all just by bashing rocks together in a wilderness somewhere, in between desperately foraging for just enough food and clean water to barely keep us alive another day, whilst surrounded by predators far stronger than us.  The sheer, gargantuan, relentless struggle of it all is breathtaking.  

    By comparison, it’s not impressive at all that an omnipotent, omniscient being might create a universe.  By definition, it was always within its abilities.  (A god that could do anything but still felt the pain of that exertion is a rather more interesting proposition but, strictly speaking, that would not be omnipotence, as that must necessarily also include the ability to do something like that and not feel any pain)  If you’re omniscient and omnipotent, you don’t need to struggle; indeed, I’d expect little less than whole new realities from such a being, starting out with everything going for it (and I’d certainly consider the petty, childish, unimaginative behaviour of the god in, say, the bible to be infinitely beneath such a creature; indeed, we’ve now progressed to the point that it’s well below an awful lot of us!).  What we stupid, bickering, violence-prone, short-lived apes have done, though utterly dwarfed by the alleged act of Creation (something many Creationists gleefully, gloatingly, spitefully point out, as if they weren’t belittling themselves equally), is nevertheless infinitely more impressive, because we started out with so very little.

  • Anonymous

    Oh, and for those confused by “Virtue”? I’m pretty sure that’s code for what they used to call “Chastity” — i.e. sexual abstinence before marriage, straight up sex within marriage but only for procreation; no pre-marital sexual activity, no sex with people of the same sex ever, no adultery. Of course, most of the onus is upon the girls to protect their virtue. Boys can’t help being boys.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rafi-Cate/600717825 Rafi Cate

    There is an omnipotent, omniscient, non-corporeal force believed by adherents to be the determinant of all else.  Laws of which are interpreted for us by mostly older white men who urge obedience.  An inviolate social hierarchy is the natural outcome of those laws.  Truth is defined a priori by experts in reference to the circular logic of arcane texts and doctrines.

    Does this sound familiar?  But no, it’s not about what is usually defined as religious belief.  It’s about the force which is actually the object of the greatest worship in the modern world.   That this source is revered is made obvious by simply observing the largest buildings in any urban area or on any university campus.  

    It is the economic system, gone global, the province of an econopath elite.   Defended by loyal missionaries called economists.  Beliefs translated into very real statutes by the sponsorship of minions in the US Congress and other governments.

    So the virtue of  ”respect for the creator” must be taken in this context.  It is then to elevate a human construct to the level of deity.    Then worshipping its most base 
    and least loving aspects.  In old biblical language, this was called Mammon. 

    Since “honesty” is also on the list of virtues, let us start by being  honest about what is most worshipped in this country.   Otherwise the rest of the list is irrelevant when the greatest, uh, “good” is nothing but greed.                 

  • ParentEducation

    Please note this effects ALL of Georgia not just Columbia County.  They merely chose to include it on their signature form.  This is the law https://public.doe.k12.ga.us/DMGetDocument.aspx/character%20education%20law.pdf?p=6CC6799F8C1371F66F2E68DB4B620C7235394D3860ACC9198382B2AD1F16C70A&Type=D .  The county just spelled it out in column form.  Irregardless it is wrong but the county will have standing because they are just duplicating the law which is imposed on them by the state of GA.

    To be honest, I’d be happy if they were able to teach and implement some respect in the schools, some honesty, kindness and cooperation.  I teach in another district and it is darn hard to get anything done without those “virtues” or character traits in the classroom.

  • Anonymous

    I was born and raised in Georgia, and it’s a whole different world down here, y’all.  When my daughter was in 1st grade, I volunteered to help with the Valentines Day party.  One of the other moms brought a craft for the kids to do.  It involved foam hearts with the words “My heart belongs to Jesus” on them.  I considered going to the office and telling the principal (who happened to be a preacher’s wife) that they could get in serious trouble about that, but in the end, I did what I always do here.   I kept my mouth shut.  My kids are now in one of the rare secular private schools in the state.  It’s funny, they can do what they want there, but there is actually less religion in the classroom than in the public schools.

  • Zachary Aletheia

    I wonder what list of charactor traits a bunch of humanists might come up with. One i’d want on it is critical thinker.

  • Jennifer Jones

    Can you tell me if you ever got a resolution to this?  I am also in Georgia, though not in Columbia County and I had this exact same verbage come through this week.  My daughter’s in elementary school and in their agenda, they have a calendar.  For every week, they have a “word of the week.”  This week, the “word” is “Respect for the Creator.”  I contacted the school and the Principal called me and said that their agendas and these words of the week are handed down from the state.  I emailed our DOE to request some info on this, but haven’t heard anything from them yet.  


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