Read this story and weep! But ask a few more questions

Every now and then, I receive private emails, or emails sent through our contact link, that sound something like this: So why aren’t you guys writing about this story? You afraid to or are you just too prejudiced or only interested in stories that allegedly attack conservative Christians.

Then the email will include a link to a news story — almost all of them perfectly valid — that talks about an event or a subject in which a minority religious group (in the American context, in most cases) is being attacked or treated badly.

In other words a story rather like the following Associated Press report, which ran at the ABC News site under this headline: “ACLU Accuses La. School of Religious Harassment.” More on that in a minute.

Now the problem is that many of these stories are actually rather ordinary. They get the job done and there isn’t really much to comment on — negative or positive — in terms of the nuts-and-bolts of journalism. Here’s the bottom line: Most of the time, what these correspondents want to do is argue about THE ISSUE at the heart of the story, not a journalism issue in the new coverage.

Consider the AP story mentioned earlier. The events described in this story are so crazy — the church-state violations attributed to these educators so ridiculous — that it almost reads like something from The Onion.

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing a school board in Louisiana, alleging officials at one of its schools harassed a sixth-grader because of his Buddhist faith and that the district routinely pushes Christian beliefs.

The lawsuit was filed against the Sabine Parish School Board … in U.S. District Court in Shreveport on behalf of Scott and Sharon Lane and their three children. According to the complaint from the ACLU and its Louisiana chapter, the Lanes enrolled their son — a lifelong Buddhist of Thai descent — in Negreet High School and he quickly became the target of harassment by the school’s staff.

So what is alleged to have happened in this case, at the hands of Superintendent Sara Ebarb, Negreet High Principal Gene Wright and science teacher Rita Roark? If half of this is true the ACLU lawsuit is a slam dunk:

The lawsuit said Roark has “repeatedly taught students that the earth was created by God 6,000 years ago, that evolution is ‘impossible’ and that the Bible is ’100 percent true.’

“She also regularly features religious questions on her tests such as “Isn’t it amazing what the —————— has made!!!!”

When the Lanes’ son “did not write in Roark’s expected answer (LORD), she belittled him in front of the rest of the class.”

While studying other religions, she also has told students that Buddhism is “stupid,” the lawsuit said.

In other words, what we have here is the flip side of all of those War On Christianity stories — some real, some exaggerated — that show up from time to time. Like I said, any fair-minded person who reads the details contained in this story has to be appalled.

You need more?

Beyond that, according to the complaint, the school regularly incorporates official Christian prayer into class and school events and scrolls Bible verses on an electronic marquee in front of the school that greets students as they enter the building.

At one point, a key school official warns the parents that “this is the Bible belt” and tells them that they should make their son change his faith.

So what is right with this story? Lots of it. There’s lots of blunt, detailed writing. The quotes are amazing.

What’s wrong with it? Well, I must admit that I kept waiting for SOMEONE linked to the accused administrators and teachers to be quoted offering some kind of offense. Even as I was stunned by the details, I wondered if there were any points to be made on the other side.

Is anyone attempting to defend the accused? Notice, for example, the lack of material from the think tanks and law firms that normally defend cultural conservatives who are under attack in the public square.

But that’s the point: These public educators have created the flip-side, the mirror image, of the religion-free public square. They have denied this student the free exercise of his religious beliefs. We are not talking about debates in the school cafeteria between students with different beliefs. We’re talking about adults in authority harassing a young religious believer. Craziness!

But here is my point. One can be stunned by the horrors described in this story and still wonder why the journalists didn’t include material from people on the other side of the issue — if there was anyone on the other side brave enough to speak.

It’s an amazing, appalling story. But is it a complete story? I have to admit that I don’t know.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com/ Joel

    “Well, I must admit that I kept waiting for SOMEONE linked to the accused administrators and teachers to be quoted offering some kind of offense.”

    Did you mean “some kind of DEfense?”

  • http://triangulations.wordpress.com/ Sabio Lantz

    My child is religion-free, and has been ridiculed by school staff and other children. So have other religion-free friends children. We confronted the school and it has changed. What other side did you want to hear. They are the majority in this town — the vast majority.


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