Public School Teacher Orders Students to Pray to Jesus… and Keeps Her Job

If a public school teacher used class time to have her students pray to God and recite the Lord’s Prayer, what should be the punishment?

What if the teacher also put her priest on speakerphone so he could listen in?

And what if the teacher also had her kids re-enact scenes from Jesus’ life?

Public schools aren’t arms of your church.

Because that’s what Michelle Schindelheim of Bronx Middle School 301 did last year. She teaches English as a Second Language and was investigated in March of 2011 after students complained she was forcing them to pray instead of teaching them how to read. She confessed to everything:

She told [investigators] the whole thing was a “stupid idea” suggested by a friend who was teaching a meditation class.

Schindelheim said she “did not know what came into her head that day” and that she was under “a lot of personal stress” at the time.

She said she normally wouldn’t teach that way and “she knew that such a curriculum was not acceptable in a public school.”

Shortly after the incident, she took a medical leave.

It’s possible she had a mental breakdown. If she admits that, which it sounds like she did, maybe she deserves a second chance. I’m reluctant to suggest that, though, since another person complained about her pushing Jesus onto her students only months prior to this incident. So it’s not isolated.

What was her punishment? A “letter in her disciplinary file” and a verbal scolding of her principal. Hardly damning. She gets to keep her job, too. (Commenters at WorldNetDaily are thrilled.)

Here’s my question: If she were promoting Islam or atheism or damn-near-anything-except-Christianity, would her punishment have been this light?

(image via Shutterstock)

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.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Typical christianist privilege. Remind me again how they’re *so persecuted*? 

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

      Well obviously they’re persecuted because she’s being punished for trying to indoctrinate children. She has the right to practice her religion, and if part of that means forcing others to be part of her religion, then that’s her right!
      /sarcasm

  • C Peterson

    The punishment seems appropriate, based on the circumstances described. Unfortunately, without any actual examples of teachers receiving more severe punishments when stepping over the First Amendment line with non-Christian teaching, we’re all just guessing what might happen, aren’t we?

    What is the point of this post other than needlessly fanning flames? I took it quite differently: a teacher stepped out of line, was called on it by students, and the school administration took swift action to correct the matter.

    • ThePhdScientist

      And answer the question posed…Had she been doing the same thing with Islam would you feel the same?

      • C Peterson

        That wasn’t the question posed. I did answer that one: we can only guess. To answer your question, it wouldn’t matter to me what religious ideas she was pushing in class, that would have to stop… as it did in this case.

        • ThePhdScientist

          To answer your question the point of this post is to combat the pervasive Christian superiority complex. We know what would have happened if this teacher was promoting Islam. Fox News would have been all over it like white on rice! They would have said it was Obama’s fault since he is a Muslim after all! Calls would have been pouring in to that school district. Remember when they tried to build the Muslim Community centre several blocks away from the Twin Towers…?

          • C Peterson

            I have no doubt that Fox and the various wingnuts would respond as you suggest. But I don’t know that the school would have responded any differently, and that was the question posed.

            • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke, Blonde

              please. a muslim teacher who tried this would’ve been fired so fast your comments would’ve spun around like a top. you xtians are all the same, even when you’re trying to pretend like you’re being equitable. hell, a muslim or pagan who tried this in a public school probably would’ve had to move to another state, for fear of being strung up… by ‘christians.’ 

              • C Peterson

                Your view is entirely irrational.

    • AtheistAxolotl

      http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/religion/2010-05-29-fired28_ST_N.htm
      That just happens to be the first result in a google search for “teacher fired for atheism”. It does happen. I went to school in a district that effectively fired a teacher for being openly muslim, even without any wrongdoing such as preaching in class. Of course, that was not the given reason for her termination. And yes, we had openly christian teachers as well, and even ones who encouraged us to attend church, but nothing ever happened to them.

      • C Peterson

        No doubt it does happen. But the question was whether the response at this school would have been any different, and there’s nothing to suggest otherwise. It is unfair to suggest otherwise. All we know here is that the school responded very appropriately to this particular situation.

        • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke, Blonde

          it is not “unfair” to suggest it. the fact is, one that any google search will instantly prove, is that “christians” are given a pass, over and over again, for proselytizing in public places, government jobs, corporate environments… and they hardly ever pay any significant price. it’s a flat out bald lie to pretend that christians aren’t given every break, all favor, and are a solid majority in this country, a religious group that at the same time oppresses everyone who does not conform to their belief. and, with shameless predictability, claim victimhood any time anyone points that out in public. 

          people like you make me sick. you’re the worst, worse than the blatant haters and xtian theocrats who want to pass laws that would put gays in prison or even slaughter us. people like you come here and try to be “balanced” and “moderate” in your claims that this would’ve been the same had it happened to a muslim or pagan teacher. you damn well know it would not have, and you’re not fooling anyone here. 

          • C Peterson

            It is hugely unfair given that this school apparently has no history of treating people differently based on their religion.

            I am not making any claim that this school would or would not have handled things differently had a non-Christian been involved. I’m not making any claim at all, because there are no grounds for doing so. How such situations have been mishandled by others tells us nothing about how things might hypothetically be handled here. The fact that you are willing to make baseless assumptions about this school tells me a lot about your ethics!

  • Evertonian

    The post says this could have happened because the teacher had a mental breakdown. If this is the case Hemant welcomes the idea of a second chance. I think a second chance is a good idea too. After all, does this poor lady really have controll of what her mind does? Her brain is chemically reacting in a very weird and poor way…but she is not to blame. For whatever reason, her brain is producing different thoughts than what our brains are producing. But this is not her fault, so she shouldn’t be punished. Heck, I don’t think anyone should ever be punished for anything. If our brains evolved and are controlled by chemical reactions and shaped by the surrounding environment, how could we ever condemn anyone? Stop blaming religious people for their weird thoughts….it’s not their fault.

    • coyotenose

      A rephrasing of your previous strawmen, which makes this nothing but another example of your deliberately ignoring many previous commenters who have refuted your ideas. Flagging for spam and not bothering shredding your stupidity, because you don’t debate, you just dimwittedly repeat yourself.

    • curtcameron

      If there are no consequences to poor behavior, then how do you expect someone’s brain, which is a cause-and-effect machine, to have the data it would need to make a positive decision?

      I agree that retribution should not be one of the goals of the consequences, but we have to give proper incentives and disincentives for behavior so that her cause-and-effect machine in her head will reach the outcome that’s best.

      • Evertonian

        I won’t reply to October or Coyote because all they do is Ad Hom, but I will reply to you Curt: How do we decide what is “poor behavior” and “what outcome is the best”? Is this subjective and arbitrary? Or is this a majority vote? Given your worldview, how do you decide?

        • curtcameron

          I have this innate desire to not hurt my fellow man, and be helpful when I can. I also want for me me me, but getting along with others and not seeing anyone suffer is something I desire as well.

          It apparently isn’t arbitrary that I want those things, because a) almost everyone on the planet seems to have similar desires, and b) we have good evolutionary explanations for why we have them. But, whatever the source, I do indeed have those desires, and that’s how I decide what’s best.

          From that very basic view to form a foundation, we can build systems of morality and ethics. Eventually we get to the point that using government to force your religion onto other people’s kids is unethical and should be discouraged.

          • Evertonian

            Curt, your response is a subjective one. The crazy school teacher could of made the same argument for her side of the case. Now, are you okay with these right & wrong/morality issues being subjective? Let’s do a little test: Remember the other day when that atheist was saying that it wasn’t ABSOLUTELY wrong to molest children for fun? He/she said if it brought pleasure to the child then he/she didn’t see a problem with it. Do you agree with this atheist? I think this atheist was being completely consistent with the atheistic worldview. And I applauded him for that. He/she understood that if there is no ultimate standard of right/wrong, than it is all subjective. However, when atheist are consistent, it exposes your worldview as complete foolishness and absurdity. So…. Try to answer my question.

            • curtcameron

              Am I OK with morality issues being subjective? Well, morality is fundamentally one’s opinion on what’s right and wrong, so strictly speaking it can’t be other than subjective.

              Do I agree that it’s OK to molest a child if the child gets enjoyment from it? Enjoyment isn’t the point – the molestation is likely going to be harmful to the child, and that’s why I’m against it.

              I have a desire to be helpful, and to not hurt others. Most humans have basically the same desire, so we almost all agree on many fundamental points of morality.

              The fact that it’s fundamentally our opinion doesn’t bother me. Why does it bother you?

              • Evertonian

                Thank you for the thoughtful answer Curt. You seem like a guy who is interested in truth. I think your answer highlights the huge problem you have as an atheist. My point is that you cannot say molesting children is absolutely wrong at all times and in all places. You are adamant that it is wrong in YOUR opinion, but you can’t defenitively condemn it across the board. You’re being consistent. But th problem with being consistent is that it exposes your worldview as being absurd. Curt, you should be able to say it is wrong for everyone and everywhere. You know this is absolutely wrong….come on now.

                • curtcameron

                  What’s absurd? I’m opposed to harming children, just like nearly every other person on the planet.

                  Why does an opinion, in your view, somehow need to be “absolute” for you to be OK with it? What would an “absolute” opinion even mean?

            • The Captain

              “that atheist was saying that it wasn’t ABSOLUTELY wrong to molest children for fun? He/she said if it brought pleasure to the child then he/she didn’t see a problem with it. ” YOU LIE!

              That was NOT what he said. He gave a hypothetical scenario in which a society may view the molestation of a child as not the worst outcome, hence ethical within the bounds of that society within that scenario. And the reasons within his scenario where NOT if it “brought pleasure to the child”, it was if it saved the child’s life. You read that too, so you sir, are a fucking LIER! 

              So perhaps you shouldn’t come here and argue the superiority of your morality and ethics when you show neither.

              • Evertonian

                No. Not true. Go back and read the string. He made one comment on a hypothetical society and another on the pleasure of the little girl. Go back and read. Oh and by the way, given your worldview, what’s wrong with lying? What if I was trying to “get ahead” by lying? Survival of the fittest dog. Your anger at my alleged lying is proving my point.

                • pRinzler

                  Your “survival of the fittest” doesn’t carry any weight whatsoever.  We now understand that competition as well as cooperation can be the result of evolution.  Cooperation, understood as an evolutionary trait, by the way, is the foundation for morality.

                  Check out “Good Natured” by Frans de Waal on how a proto-morality is present and observable in primates.

                  Once you view morality as something ultimately based in evolution, you’ll understand how you attempt to only see morality as only objective (in which case it is true) or subjective (in which case it is arbitrary?) is a false choice.  

                  We can decide that killing an infant is perfectly find just about to the same extent that we can decide that eating s*** is delicious.  It’s possible, and no doubt some few people have done it, but the vast majority of us understand how repulsive it is without it being grounded in something objective.

                • Indorri

                  Repeat the mantra, dude. All this is proving is that the Calvinism virus is hardy and causes grave output errors.

            • Marco

              Child molestation is morally wrong in our society because it damages the child in the longer term. 
              To most of us is repugnant as well, as is incest, but there have been societies where sexual molestation of minors and incest were much less damaging longer term to the individual victim because their views on sexuality and social mores were very different than ours. So, no. It’s not ABSOLUTELY morally wrong but it’s morally wrong in our society because the majority of us find it repugnant and harmful.

              but it’s not morally wrong because your god said so. It’s because we, the members if this society, judged it to be wrong. Could that be because of our judeo Christian heritage? Sure. We can’t change our history and if your point is that us as atheist still have to function within a judeo-christian moral society, what else is new? 

              • Evertonian

                Marco… Thank you. So let me ask you a follow up: Given what you just said, if our society was crawling with child molesters, and the majority of the society approved of this behavior, would it be right to molest children?

                • pRinzler

                  You make it sound like, without objective morality, approving child molestation is just as likely as disapproving it, so you ask the question about the case in which it is approved.

                  What you’re missing is that humans in their culture have a built-in revulsion to child molestation, but it doesn’t come from some god, and it’s not objective.  It comes from evolution.

                  This also means that some few people will be missing this revulsion, and may become child molesters.  And this is exactly what we observe.

                  Again: logic and evidence.

            • Deven Kale

               You deliberately misrepresent what I said. I was rather clear in stating that there was a problem with molesting children even if they enjoyed it. Go back and re-read what I said if that was your interpretation, for I only gave one example of when child molestation could possibly be considered anything other than a negative: in the hypothetical circumstance of virginity being an offense worthy of the death penalty.

              • Evertoniancalvinist

                Not true Deven… I’ll give you a chance to change your mind right here: Is molesting children for fun absolutely wrong for any society and in any place? These are easy questions that we should be able to answer. It is absolutely wrong and wicked in all circumstances to molest children…. so says the Christian. Now, what say you Mr. Atheist?

                • Deven Kale

                  So, you say that molesting a child is wrong when the result of that non-molestation is your childs death? As I said in the other thread, the molestation in that hypothetical circumstance is the lesser of two evils, and therefore could be considered ethical in that (in my opinion, unethical) society which I would never want to live in (yet another statement I made which you conveniently overlooked).

                  For fun? I never said it was okay to molest a child for fun, because I can’t think of an instance in which it could be moral to do so.

                  Now, show us where I said it was okay to molest a child for fun. I have a feeling I know the quote you’re going to use, and I’ll make a prediction right now: It will be taken greatly out of context. This will show your true colors E.C., so tread carefully.

        • pRinzler

          “Is this subjective and arbitrary?”
          The answer does not fit a simplistic, black and white dichotomy that I suspect you’re working from.  

          People, as human animals, define good and bad behavior through a complex interaction of evolutionarily inherited tendencies, as well as through culturally handed-down patterns and other means.  One would expect that, given this, we would see significant overlap between what different cultures at different times have deemed good or bad, as well as significant differences, too.  Lo and behold, that’s what we see in the world.

          Ain’t logic and evidence grand?

        • coyotenose

           Either you’re too stupid to know what an ad hominem is, or you’re lying, again. Like you do every day you pretend you haven’t already been countered.

          Jesus must be so proud of you, Liar.

          • Evertonian

            LOL. Your response to me accusing you of ad hominems is to call me a stupid-liar.

            Ad hominems= “Attacking an opponent’s character rather than answering his argument.”—Dictionary

            • coyotenose

               Your arguments have already been answered, several dozen times. You refuse to acknowledge that. Thus you are a moron or a liar, or a combination of both. Also thusly, your restating those same refuted arguments does not require addressing.

              If I was dismissing your arguments based on thinking you’re a moron or a liar, THAT would be an ad hominem. This is not. This is dismissing your arguments because your arguments can’t incorporate new information. Then I insult you for being a dimwit or a liar, which is totally separate from dismissing your arguments. Your being a moron is a consequence of your claims continuing to fail in the exact same way over and over, and your being a liar is a consequence of pretending that they haven’t failed far too many times for you to be unaware of. An ad hominem would be the reverse.

              I know that the intersection of the existential crisis that you’re having and projecting, and the mental brakes caused by brainwashing make it difficult, but try to learn to read for comprehension. Your Dunning-Kruger slip is showing rather severely when you try to sound knowledgeable on logic and the beliefs of others, simply because you aren’t competent enough to get that we’ve seen your ilk before, and your games that are so impressive to your fellow cultists don’t work on people who don’t share your indoctrination.

              On a tangent, it’s funny how you’re trying to revise your identity after the nonsense and evil of Calvinism was pointed out. How many names does that make now? Six? Eight?

              Dimwit.

              • Indorri

                Meh, I don’t think abusing Evertonian is useful, as obstinate as he is. He was instilled with a virulent meme. It’d be better to answer him courteously.

        • The Captain

          Foster does not Ad Hom you, yet you never seem to reply to him anymore. Perhaps because he shows you ignorance too much?

          • coyotenose

             Well, nobody uses ad hominems against him. He just doesn’t understand what the word means. He’s from the same school of, um, “thought” as the twit* who told me that he had the true definition of “vestigial organ”, nevermind that it wasn’t the same use of the term as a whole that had already been in use since before Darwin.

            And yeah, Foster takes him down pretty handily, and deserves credit for that.

            *An engineer. Go go, Gadget Salem Hypothesis!

    • Octoberfurst

        Evertonian, you contribute nothing to this site. Your comments are idiotic and the “facts” you have stated in the past have been discredited. Please take your simplistic Bible-thumping world-view somewhere else.  You are embarrassing yourself.  

    • Michael

      Don’t feed the trolls…

    • Foster

      Whether or not blame can be assigned is not relevant to the question of whether she should be fired.  People are often hired or fired based upon things that are independent of their control, regardless of whether they are blameworthy.  So your objection has no bearing upon the reported facts that I can see.  Atheists pointing out what they see as errors in religious thought are presumably attempting to persuade religiously minded people of their point as well as bolster the morale of their fellow atheists.  Fault and blame need not enter into the equation.  And I say that as a Catholic Christian diametrically opposed to most of what I have read on this site, but your point does not validly address or refute their position.

    • michael both

      Give it a rest. You start the same argument almost every time you post here. I am really beginning to think you simply are a bit stupid. And, yes, I don’t hold you responsible for that, but at the same time it doesn’t mean the rest of us need to tolerantly put up with your crap.

      • http://benny-cemoli.myopenid.com/ Benny Cemoli

        Nevermind.

    • Sunny Day

      “If our brains evolved and are controlled by chemical reactions and
      shaped by the surrounding environment, how could we ever condemn anyone?”

      This is why we punish people for actions and not just thoughts.

      Oddly, ignorant theists believe its ok to punish people eternally for having only thoughts.

    • Indorri

      Dude, seriously. Repeat the mantra. You’re making syntax errors up the wazoo.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

      But how could you possibly have thought of any of this when you deny the existence of the Unicorn Herd which so benevolently bestowed thought and reason upon us?

      • Evertonian

        Hi Julie…That is not a sound counter- argument to mine. My argument is towards the “atheist”. Is your position atheism or pink unicornism? Because I’ll debate you on both.

        • Michaelbrice

          Damn you and your pink unicorn schism to hell for eternity, it is written that the true unicorn is white. Repent your sins and  hold your blasphemy,  and once again embrace the white unicorn as the only true messiah.

    • Baby_Raptor

      Did Guest get a new screen name? It’s the same empty noise…

      • Indorri

        Guest us agnostic, Evertonian us reformed.

  • A3Kr0n

    If she hasn’t proselytized since her medical leave I’d leave it alone.

    • Michaelbrice

       

      I agree A3KrOn, she may have been suffering from emotional or mental difficulties. And if one thinks that believing in magic omnipotent beings is a form of mental disturbance the allegations of previous transgressions would only mean she has been having medical difficulties for some time now.I am not naive enough to discount the possibility (raised by other posters) that she got caught with her hand in the cookie jar and constructed an escape route for herself to preserve her income and employment. If that is true I am sure she will reveal herself soon enough, however, until that time I would conditionally accept her explanation.She admitted she was wrong, it hasn’t happened since, my opinion is let it go, speculation as to whether she is sincere or not is pointless, we can never really know. But in the final analysis, wasn’t the point to stop her doing it? I will settle for that, but I would preferred that she had said “I am wrong, and after an honest review of my actions, and study of the bible I have concluded that god does not exist. I sincerely apologize to any one to whom I offended.”But…………that is unlikely.

      • WoodyTanaka

        “But in the final analysis, wasn’t the point to stop her doing it? ”

        Not just that.  There should be retribution, so as to convince other teachers who would do the same thing that they shouldn’t do it.

  • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

    She screwed up and got called to the carpet on it. The system worked.
    What’s the problem?

    • Question Everything

      The fact that she keeps doing it?

      • NorelEckmel

        But, but, religion is all about fucking up and then absolving yourself of guilt by praying for forgiveness! I mean the whole religion is founded on the torture/execution of some one else for your sins. Personal responsibility is not important under a Christian moral framework. 

        Besides so long as she prayed each and every time she fucked up she should be good to go with a clean slate for next time. Also no matter what atrocities you commit, if you surrender yourself to Jesus you are magically a good person again who just made some mistakes.

        (Sarcasm)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1078695333 David Kopp

      1) That she’s a repeat offender
      2) That there’s a disparity between how she was treated because it was Christian myths, rather than something like Islam or Wicca. How soon do you think her house would have been burned down if she was forcing her students to pray to Allah?

  • http://www.facebook.com/libbiegrant Libbie Grant

    I was okay with this, since she admitted it was stupid and then took a leave, right up until I read that she’d done it before.  Bullshit.  Fire her.  She’ll just do it again, and then cringe with her tail between her legs once more when she’s called out…again.

    • http://askanatheist.tv/ Becky Friedman

       The link to “another person complained” about another thing months prior only describes this incident.  Where’s the reports of her having done it before? 

  • Stev84

    If it was a one-time thing and she  realized that she screwed up then the punishment is appropriate. More would only be justified if she made a habit out of it.

  • http://twitter.com/lisa_ms1 lisa

    exactly.  people (christians)  don’t have any issues with the praying as long as it is what they believe in, the minute it is about a different religious belief, is when all “hell” breaks loose.

  • Marco

    As far as I can tell from the story, the first time she did it she was not investigated. In fact it came up during the investigation following her second (recorded) attempt. 

    If that’s true, then I agree she should be able to keep her job under probation. If it happens a third time then she should be terminated.

    However, I do agree that if she was making the kids pray to some other god she would be so gone already by now as to be ectoplasmic. Unfortunately, we don’t have another teacher to compare her to.

  • RobertoTheChi

    The majority of the comments on that site are ridiculous. Nothing but a bunch of uneducated, mouth-breathing knuckledraggers. They clearly could care less about the separation of church and state.

  • RobertoTheChi

    This teacher should be fired. I wouldn’t want her within 100 feet of my child. Christian privilege at it’s finest…

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke, Blonde

    no.

    this has been another addition of Simple Answers to Simple Questions(tm). 

  • enantiomer2000

    She will burn in hell for what she has done!!!

  • Sysiphus

    I as an atheist abhor this type of indoctrination, how ever, if we look for every person “to loose their job” (family / social impact etc..) are we then no better than the fire and brimstone wrath of God / god / allaggghhhhh / Yawway(!) / FSM, allow them apologise  tight reign there circular activities and further, proportional discipline, dock wages, holidays etc.. a person should not incur the loss of a job simply for following their mental temporal insanity…  

  • Chakolate

    A letter in her file and a verbal scolding are the first steps toward further disciplinary action.  You generally don’t just up and fire someone, you give them a chance to improve.  The first time it happened, note was taken.  The second time, formal reprimand and documentation.  The third time, it will be much easier to fire her. 

     

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000265741517 Adam Gill

    crucifixion seems appropriate.

  • Aitamen913

     A second chance?

    Sorry, nutters have no place in public education.  If you’re unable or unwilling to adhere to scientific rigour in your personal life, how the fuck are you going to do so professionally and in a way that convinces children to do so as well?

  • Nospam

    If she were promoting Islam, it would be exactly the same. Buddhism or Wicca or Zoroastrianism, not so much. The two religions that are by far the most powerful are more equal than others.

  • Hatch Jm

    Knowing teaching in NY,  it’s look for the Union Label.  It would be a large bit of grief for the principle to do anything.  Better to complain to/come down on the Union.


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