Public School Teacher Boasts About Praying with Students… Then Tries to Hide Her Comments

***Update***: Mattheiss is a staffer at the school and not a teacher. My apologies for the post’s title. Still, that doesn’t take away from anything she writes on the Facebook wall. Staffers, just like teachers, cannot use work time to proselytize. And Mattheiss makes it clear that she’s ignoring that rule completely; she writes that she prays with kids daily. If this were part of some after school Christian club, that would be legal, but there’s no indication of that.

One of the problems with proselytizing public school teachers is that their students are not always aware it’s wrong, and even when they do, they’re not always willing to call their teachers out on it (for good reason).

That’s why it’s always helpful when preaching staffers come right out in the open and say they’re all about bringing children to Jesus during work hours.

That’s what Mary Mattheiss did on Facebook yesterday. In a thread by Eric Hovind (son of Creationist and criminal Kent Hovind) about public schools, Mattheiss made it very clear that she has prayed with her students for the past 30 years.

To make things even better, she mentions the name of her current school: Warrington Elementary School in Pensacola, FL. Apparently, they don’t punish staffers who use work time to proselytize.

What’s that, you say? You don’t see what I’m talking about? You don’t see Mary making those particular comments?

That’s because she deleted them.

She hoped no one would find out — maybe because she knows that preaching in a public school is illegal.

But that’s why Jesus invented screenshots.

Let’s take you back about 14 hours…

It’s so easy when you get a confession, isn’t it…?

I’ve sent a message (and the screenshot) to the principal to find out what she plans to do about this and why her school is allowing this practice to continue. I’ll let you know once I get a response.

(Thanks to Michael for the images)

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.

  • Liz Heywood

    Hemant, you rock! I am proud to know you. Dying to see what happens. Gives me hope for more separation of church & state in the New Year. Rock on.

  • http://donaldmorton.wordpress.com/ Donald Morton

    I have seen this attitude from Christian teachers before. There is an annual workshop here in Arkansas where teachers can go to get lessons on how to better proselytIse to children. It’s named “Called To Teach”. I am signed up to their private message boards, and there are several threads here just like this one.

    They are trying to push the boundaries of the law to see what will. E enforced and what won’t.

    • AtheistMom

      Christians are sneaky bastards, aren’t they?

  • http://twitter.com/SkepticalBully Skeptical Bully

    Boasting about breaking the law for thirty years, clever teacher!  That’s when Americans should be happy to have teachers like Hemant willing to teach and only teach, keeping their personal beliefs for themselves during school hours.

    I can’t say that I hope the lady loses her job, she may be an excellent and caring teacher aside from her knowingly disregarding the law…  On second thought, she has no excuse and shouldn’t be forgiven, let them do what they will! 

    • http://profiles.google.com/nathanlee2 nathan lee

      I do like that we can’t force group prayer in the classroom, but it’s sad that I’m otherwise not allowed to teach people to think scientifically about their religion in the classroom.

      When I was observing another teacher for a class, I was told by a kid that scientists don’t have any idea how the universe was made, thus only creationism makes sense. I told the kid that this isn’t really true, as science actually does have a lot of explanation for creation. We don’t know everything for a fact, but we do have a lot of good theories. Ever since, I wondered whether or not I broke the law, and all it would take is for his parent to complain.

      • UrbanDryad

        No, you did not break the law because you never mentioned religion.    As long as you kept to science only (and that includes debunking certain wild Creationist claims which are founded on faulty logic) you are golden.   You were simply refuting his claim that ‘scientists don’t know XYZ.’

        Science is secular.  Talking about science is secular.    May religious people don’t even accept Creationism.

        • http://wordsideasandthings.blogspot.com/ Garren

          “Science is secular.  Talking about science is secular.”

          Which is why it’s so important that atheists stop trying to hijack “secular” to mean an atheistic worldview.

          • MelanieInMiami

            I’ve never seen evidence of atheists doing that. I have seen theists who seem to think the two words mean the same thing, though.

            • http://wordsideasandthings.blogspot.com/ Garren

              Yep, theists like to equate them because it turns secularism into a religion, legally speaking. …but atheists (unfortunately) play into this trap, e.g:

              http://secular.org/

              “National advocacy for atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other secular Americans” and “Representing Secular Americans in Our Nation’s Capitol.”

              And from the about page: “The Secular Coalition for America is a 501(c)(4) advocacy organization whose purpose is to amplify the diverse and growing voice of the nontheistic community in the United States.”

              Notice how they’re using the label “secular americans” as a synonym for various nontheist Americans. (It’s beside the point that they _also_ sometimes use “secular” in a sense which does not imply a view on religion.)

              Secular Student Alliance gives the same impression to the public.

              • Liz Heywood

                Using ‘secular’ to mean ‘atheist’ is like using ‘religious’ to mean ‘Christian.’ One point of secular organizations is to prevent PUBLIC TAX MONEY from being used to proselytize i.e. promote specific points of view.

          • http://www.miketheinfidel.com/ MikeTheInfidel

            Allow me to translate: “I don’t like scientists telling me that science must use only natural explanations.” Okay.

            • http://wordsideasandthings.blogspot.com/ Garren

              That’s a somewhat separate matter, but yes: an absolute requirement that science be limited to natural explanations does turn secular science into (philosophically) naturalistic science.

              Truly secular science follows observable evidence to the best explanation, without ruling out supernatural explanations in principle.

              If you disagree, this might change your mind (highly recommended!):
              http://sites.google.com/site/maartenboudry/methodological-naturalism

              • Anonymous

                “Supernatural” is unscientific by definition. It’s outside of nature. Science explains the natural world.

                “Secular” is, by definition, nonreligious. So a secular coalition is a group of nonreligious people.  

                Seriously, look up words first before speaking.

      • Becky Shattuck

        Teachers are allowed to teach science.  We discussed the Big Bang Theory in my freshman (public) high school science class.  In my opinion, the problem really occurs when people who are uneducated in science determine a school’s curriculum and put in provisions that evolution can only be taught if teachers introduce other ideas on the origins of humanity (such as Creationism).  That’s a problem because there are no other scientifically accepted ideas EXCEPT for evolution.  Should teachers bring up the antiquated idea that the sun revolves around the earth (like the Bible says!) as an alternative to our current understanding of our solar system?  Of course not.  

      • Anonymous

        I would hope sharing facts about science couldn’t be construed as illegal!

        • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

          That won’t stop them from complaining, though.

    • Johnd Hughes

      Has this been passed along to the Freedom From Religion Foundation yet?

      • http://wordsideasandthings.blogspot.com/ Garren

        Do any other atheists wish the ‘Freedom From Religion Foundation’ would change their name if they insist on getting involved in freedom _of_ religion advocacy?

        Their current name only suits pro-atheism advocacy. Imagine a ‘Freedom From Unbelief’ organization which claimed to be supporting religious freedom. We’d call BS on that, so let’s be consistent.

        • JD

          Frankly their purpose is to prevent theists from foisting their religion on those of us who do not believe in any particular set of iron or bronze age myths.  Hence Freedom *FROM* Religion.

      • Lpodolak

        I passed it on to them yesterday, as well as emailing the principal of the school.

    • Alms-off

      There is no way she’ll lose her job. Religious folk always have each-others back like a good ol’ boy club.  Think she’s the only teacher who’s religious in the school? Very (sadly) low chance. 

      The worst she’ ll probably get is a finger wag or a slap on the wrist while someone winks at her to keep up the good work.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000315427999 Dawn Doege Slingsby

    Warrington Middle? I’m kinda surprised, but then again, this is the Bible Belt & Pensacola is known for it’s Bible thumpers.

    oh, long time reader, first time commenter – love your blog.:)

  • http://twitter.com/Remijdio Nick Johnson

    Of course she proselytizes in school. The local methodist church is giving them free lunch:
    “Thank youOn behalf of Warrington
    Elementary School, I would like to thank Warrington United Methodist
    Church. They provided a Christmas lunch for the entire faculty and
    staff.
    It is greatly appreciated.
    — Mary Mattheiss
    Pensacola ” — http://www.pnj.com/article/20111227/OPINION/112270302/Letters-December-27

  • Holldoll933

    Donald, where in Arkansas are you from? Generally, its pretty tame in my area (NWA) but I have heard stories from other areas.

    • http://donaldmorton.wordpress.com/ Donald Morton

      Holldoll, ‘m in NWA, too. You should come hang out with us sometime. We are on meetuo and Facebook as “Atheist Community of Northwest Arkansas”.

      The Christian message board has people on it from all over. They just hold the in-person workshop in Little Rock.

  • fuzzybunnyslipperz

    This just makes me so very angry.  Christians that do these kinds of things see absolutely nothing wrong with using their job as teachers in public schools to spread their brain rot.  Yet if a school has LGBT clubs or Atheist clubs oh those are WRONG they are teaching our children baaaaaaaaaaaad things.  And you KNOW if a Pagan or a Muslim teacher was praying with students daily for 30 years and leading children to their religion these same Christians who see nothing wrong with their proselytizing (because of course their religion is the only correct one on the planet) to impressionable young students would be in front of the school with pitchforks and torches demanding that the heretic be burned at the stake on the school’s football field.  

    I don’t send my child to public school seven hours a day five days a week to get preached at.  By ANYONE.  Religious teaching in class should be only in religious schools or the church of the PARENT’S choice.  It is not non-parent’s place to teach religion to any child without parental knowledge and especially without parental permission.  
    If she had wanted to start an after school bible club or whatever and the students and parents had the choice to participate or not that is a whole different story.  Would she like it if I got a job teaching there and started teaching students candle magick or how to scry?  It is the same d*mn thing when they are preaching their Christ to our children.

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

      This, minus the “my child” part — but, yeah, pretty much THIS.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ninawinn Nina Winn

    I have a feeling the principal knows and doesn’t care… How else would you get away with it for 30 years?

  • Skepacabra

    You’re welcome, Hermant. Glad I could help and thought enough to take a screenshot. Thanks for posting it. 

  • http://twitter.com/CoboWowbo Cobo Wowbo

    I just tweeted this story to Americans United. If the principle brushes Hemant off, I say we should all report this violation to AU so they can take proper action.

  • http://silveroutlinedwindow.wordpress.com/ Shannon

    Nice. I was under the impression that being a teacher meant you knew the history and laws of the country from which you received your degree. Oh, how they just keep proving me wrong.

  • Atheistheathen

    I’d send one to the superintendent too!

  • http://www.facebook.com/Hikari.Pop Crystal Jenae Hollis

    They think they’re helping people but I’m sorry, it is against the LAW for a taxpayer funded teacher to preach and pray during school hours in the classroom.

    • Silo Mowbray

      I’m not sorry at all, and I hope she gets fired, fined and jailed.

  • Anonymous

    I read some of the rest of the thread, and it always scares me to read people complaining about the moral decay of our great, “Christian” nation, and the “indoctrination” of children into “humanism.”

    Oh, what a terrible thing to keep baby Jesus separate from education! Our children are being forced to believe in imaginary numbers, why can’t public schools invoke the name of another imaginary being?
    Oh, wait…

    • AtheistMom

      Reading that thread saddened me. Why is it that so many Christians supposedly desiring peace on Earth often end up writing things meant to divide us all?

  • downtown dave

    The gall.  This woman had the nerve to care for these children.  Knowing there is a God who answers prayer and would help them.  It’s good you are on the alert for these things.  http://atheistlegitimacy.blogspot.com/

    • Rich Wilson

      The problem is, she’s praying to the wrong God, and Cthulhu is going to be really pissed and torture them all for eternity for making the wrong God-choice.  I know she means well, but she, like you, has been duped into believing in the wrong God. 

    • Greg

      Praying is about as useful as reacting to a crisis by playing Angry Birds.

      • Silo Mowbray

        Thanks for taking that away from me, Greg. Angry Birds was my final refuge in times of adversity.

    • Anonymous

      Jesus Dave, you are still hanging out here spamming us with your incomprehensible blog? 

      I have asked this question in discussion forums a billion times and the Christian never responds: What if it were a Hindu teacher leading the class in a Hindu prayer every morning? Would you be OK with that? When will the rest of the Christians finally recognize (because some do currently realize it) that SOCAS protects Christianity as well?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tiffany-Jade-Brown/640358790 Tiffany Jade Brown

      If she really cared about those children, she would spend more time doing her job. You know, teaching and whatnot? Instead of wasting time praying.

    • Anonymous

      And if she was Muslim? Hindu? Jewish? Scientology? Or ________?  Just fill in the blank with whatever religion you despise and then rethink your opinion about having someone pray with students.

    • http://www.miketheinfidel.com/ MikeTheInfidel

      From your website:

      We are battling “atheists” in the wrong arena.  It has been the arena of their choosing:  the arena of deception. …

      There’ll be no having a rational conversation with you, it seems. Troll avoided…

    • Liz Heywood

      @downtowndave:disqus    Let me tell you about faith and the care of a child. Here’s my story:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOY1ME19dLk

      Religious folks have told me, ‘Your parents had too much faith—they prayed to the wrong god–they should have known when to stop praying and start acting–’

      At public school, the point where you stop the prayer is the doorway. The more balanced thinking taught, the healthier our whole society will be.

  • Anonymous

    I’m just highly amused at the continued ignorance of how the internet works.  Sorry, Mary, deleting the comments doesn’t help – once you’ve put something out there, it’s just best to consider it permanent. 

  • AtheistMom

    Mary Mattheiss is a disgusting excuse for a teacher. She deserves to be fired and have her benefits revoked. Promoting Christianity, such a vile and hate-filled religion, can only harm our future generations.

  • http://antigold.myopenid.com/ Jude

    I worked in a public school where 1) the track coach led all the students in prayer before each practice 2) prayers were held at every graduation ceremony 3) no one cared.  In fact, after I resigned, mentioning the tyranny of religion in our school as a primary reason, they treated me as though I was fired, depriving me of 2 months of retirement pay and not re-hiring me as a substitute teacher.  I spoke up and I paid a price.  The teacher of the year is the science teacher they hired–she’s a creationist, so I doubt that she’s teaching about evolution.  Another science teacher told me that he’s afraid to use the word evolution, so he teaches it without saying the word.  I have no idea how he achieves that.

    • Jiveturkey006

      One way would be to teach what makes it up and hope that you did a good enough job that the student or students will put 2 and 2 together. For example;  gradualism, speciation, common ancestry, natural selection, and other nonselective mechanisms. This could be the only other possibility. My guess is though if you took 100 HS science teachers and asked them what any of those things were less than 25% could give you a descriptive answer of each. :(

  • Richard Lucas

    Hi Hemant, I live in Pensacola and I’ll let you know if I hear anything about this in conversation. It probably will not appear in the news though unless somebody really pushes it, and knowing this community, that probably won’t happen

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      Thanks! I appreciate that.

  • Stephan

    You know, I think the saddest part is how we have a school teacher trying to disparage the concept of being an “intellectual.”  Shouldn’t every teacher want their students to grow up and be intellectuals?

    • http://twitter.com/cockyjeremy Jeremy Lester

      Nope. Just god-fearing, gun carrying, country music loving morons.. YEEHAWWW

      • Larry Kearney

        I was going to add “and Republican” but I think that would just be redundant.

        • Rich Wilson

          In memory of my lifelong republican atheist grandparents, I try to stay away from the stereotyping.

          • Stogoe

            Which just goes to show that you can be an atheist and still be morally repugnant (like when you’re a Libertarian).  Although, being grandparents, they were probably from a time before The Great 60s Political Party Name Switcher00 (brought to you by the Civil Rights Act) and The Great 80s Televangelist/Moral Majority Infection.

            • repugnantlymoral-libertarian

              The smugness is so strong with you its scary. So, the only way to be “moral” is to be such a progressive liberal you enjoy the smell of your own farts?

            • Rich Wilson

              Initially I passed this over as yet another stupid online logical fallacy.  But then it occurred to me that it is also pretty morally repugnant to be making such gross generalizations about people, so (assuming you are an atheist) you’ve done a nice job in proving your own thesis.

              Well done! 

              • illeterateorignorant

                dear god tell me you are not American ( despite our sketchy reputation with some abroad i don not want to be your “countryman”).

                • Rich Wilson

                  I’m not American

      • Anonymous

        Because if you carry a gun and like country music you’re a moron?  You’re just as offensive as she is.  And ignorant.

        • usclat

          Not quite OC. 

          While saying that gun-carrying, country music-loving people are morons is indeed a stereotype (I mean, I still love to hear Goerge Strait’s rendition of Hank’s “Lovesick Blues” any day and I’m not a moron but I am an atheist), what this school staffer has done for 30 years – by her own admission – is despicable on so many levels that by comparison, Jeremy’s statement is funny at worst. 

          Jeremy is in his right to think anyway he wishes, even if it is disagreeable to you or me. But a public school staffer may not prey on her students to push her belief system on them.  Among other reasons, if she is successful in impressing these young minds, they are condemned to a life of religiousness that will affect them in all of their interactions. 

          No, Jeremy is just having some poetic license I’m sure. Mary however,  is violating law, morality and least but certainly not least, ethics.

  • Ringo

    Mostly OT, but my mother teaches in an elementary school. I was helping her out after school a while ago and I found a simple cross magnet. I brought it over to my mom and asked her if she was allowed to have it in the classroom. She looked at it and said, “Yes, that’s the letter t, now go put it with the rest of the alphabet.”

  • Anonymous

    it’s strange that she’s not listed as faculty or staff on the school’s web-page…unless I missed one of the grades.

    EDIT: This was posted before the update above.

  • Greg

    “Prayer has no place in the public schools, just like facts have no place in organized religion” – Superintendent Chalmers

    • Drakk

      Why specifically “organized”?

      • Anonymous

        Because that was the quote?

  • Donalbain

    If she is involved in some Christian group that is entirely voluntary, then would it not be OK for her to pray with the kids?

  • Anonymous

    It doesn’t seem she’s a teacher.  The school has a Mattheiss listed under office staff.

    bottom of the page:
    http://www.escambia.k12.fl.us/schscnts/ware/faculty/index.asp

    Of course it doesn’t matter if she’s actually a teacher or not. She’s still using her position at a school to preach to students. Maybe since she’s NOT a teacher it’ll be easier to fire her.

  • http://twitter.com/CoboWowbo Cobo Wowbo

    I can’t help but laugh at how easy it was for Robert to fool Mary into giving up what school she was doing this at. Bravo Robert.

    Also, Mary never commented she was a teacher, just that she worked at the school. I guess people assumed she was a teacher.

  • http://www.miketheinfidel.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    Wow. Look how proud she is to be saving people’s souls. She thinks she’s some kind of superhero…

  • Jetson

    This makes me wonder how pervasive this problem actually is across the nation.  With this much openness about it in this case, it seems inevitable that it is happening on a scale that would be frightening.  I am a secular home-schooler for other reasons, but this would infuriate me if it were my child in a public school.

  • Anonymous

    As usual, Canada can do you one better as Ontario School Boards prepare to allow the Gideons to ‘place’ bibles in public schools as part of a ‘decades old tradition’.

    http://www.citytv.com/toronto/citynews/news/local/article/177563–handout-of-gideon-bibles-in-public-schools-ignites-passions-over-tradition

    Obviously, this article is about the outcry over this outdated practice, right?

    Nope – it’s about how the public meeting into developing a policy on this practice was overwhelmed by defenders of the tradition clutching Gideon bibles.

    “I’m not even a Gideon. I’m just a concerned Christian parent in a country that’s still 70 per cent Christian,” said Rev. Mark Koehler, pastor at First St. Matthews Lutheran Church in Hanover, Ont.”We’ve taken prayer out of school. We can’t say certain greetings at Christmas time. We don’t want further erosion of our Christian faith and heritage to happen.”

    • Silo Mowbray

      Fellow Canadian here. I read that article a day or two ago and my head nearly exploded. I’m a member of the PAC here (Canadian version of the PTA) and the one parent on the PAC who self-identifies as Christian has been totally observant of the law. No flouting going on here, at least.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Tracy.Bradley1 Tracy Bradley

      Ontarian here. Weird – I attended both catholic and public schools… was never offered a bible in either! I’m very surprised at this. Hope they ban religious handouts entirely. 

      • Anonymous

        I came up in the catholic system, and classrooms were generally so lousy with bibles that I wouldn’t have noticed another one. I very much doubt the Catholic schools allow outside groups to distribute, though.

        We were certainly issued bibles at various points during our school careers, though. I’m pretty sure I still have at least one that was given to me in grade 7 or 8 when my peers were going for their confirmation.

  • Cherrycheri16

    I live in Pensacola. Very near Washington elementary actually and I’ll just say this isn’t a freak thing here. Pensacola is pretty much Florida’s bible belt.

    • Jadahaze30

      very true, can’t drive 2 blocks without seeing a churchs anti abortion billboard

  • RBH

    I’m reminded of Lori Miller, a middle school teacher in Mt. Vernon, Ohio.  In the administrative hearing on John Freshwater’s termination she testified under oath that she prayed over students and “shared my salvation with them” during school hours.  She was enthised about it during her testimony in the hearing.  (I can’t link to the account of that because Panda’s Thumb is down for a spell while its server moves to Arizona.)

  • CJ

    Maybe I’m crazy, but isn’t it a little inappropriate to leave the full names and pics up there of the people in the discussion? 

    • Michael Appleman

      Its public. Click the link and see it for yourself.

  • Suejak

    She also doesn’t say she prayed with them during school hours or as part a class, nor does it seem like she coerced them to do anything. Maybe slow down your crusade…?

    • Heidi

      Can’t have a crusade unless you’re a Christian.

  • Anonymous

    Those Jesus freaks have no problem breaking the law.  What she has admitted to doing is illegal.  She should be fired.

  • Anna5

    I worry about my child being molested in school, being kidnapped, being terribly hurt. Not about someone talking religion.  Priorities, people….priorities.

    • Liz Heywood

      Public school is funded by our tax dollars. How do you feel about your tax dollars supporting your child possibly being told s/he will go to hell for eternity unless s/he believes in a certain religion?

  • Jadahaze30

    i am from Pensacola and unfortunately there’s a 99% chance that nothing will be done to stop the worker unless AU gets involved or it becomes a major news story on something other than Fox News

  • Atoswald

    I used to volunteer at Warrington Elementary in the late 1980′s. This article doesn’t surprise me in the least and I will be shocked if anything comes of this, other than Mary getting a few “well done” pats on the back. The year before I volunteered, I was a senior at Escambia High School (also in Pensacola) and they had the POWER team visit our school to blow up hot water bottles with their “hot air” and rip telephone books with their “god given” muscles, all to get kids pumped about jesus. Between the famous tent revivals of Liberty Bible and the ever expanding kingdom of Pensacola Christian, not to mention the self righteous abortion clinic bombers, and the ever present jesus knockers, nothing of a religious-fruit-bat (no offense intended for the cute little flying mammal) nature surprises me from Pensacola. I’m just glad I now live far from the insanity, north of the Mason-Dixon. 

  • Anonymous

    In a similar vein: 
    http://www.wsbtv.com/news/news/parents-outraged-after-homework-assignment-refers-/nGHHr/  

    The question was a word problem that said, “Each tree had 56 oranges. If eight slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?”  

    What is also shocking is the claimed solution, that ‘
     there is a process in place to review questions ‘. If this question gets into an 8-yr old’s math homework — in Georgia! — the problem isn’t that the choice was not “reviewed”. The problem is that whoever made the choice in the first place shouldn’t be teaching.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X