This is why we need to protect the separation between church and state, and keep religion out of public schools.
The ACLU took a Louisiana school to court earlier this year after Negreet High school science teacher, Rita Roark, repeatedly denigrated the religious faith of a Buddhist student of Thai descent, calling both Buddhism and Hinduism “stupid”. One incident occurred after the student — identified as C.C. in the lawsuit — refused to answer Ms. Roark’s test question: “ISN’T IT AMAZING WHAT THE _____________ HAS MADE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
According to Ms. Roark, the right answer was “Lord”, and she requires all her students to answer “correctly” for test credit. She marked the question incorrect and publicly shamed C.C. when he first failed to answer the question, and then when he attempted to answer the question with “Lord Boda [sic]” — a reference to his Buddhist faith — when it appeared on a second exam.
In both incidents, Ms. Roark proclaimed it “stupid” to not fill in a reference to the Christian God, and encouraged her students to also verbally humiliate C.C. for not doing so.
Ms. Roark’s inappropriate behaviour wasn’t limited to anti-Asian denigration of a single student. Ms. Roark — whom I must remind you was the sixth-grade science teacher at this Louisiana school — routinely used her science class as a platform to instill the Christian faith. According to the lawsuit:
Defendant Rita Roark regularly asks her sixth-grade students for professions of Christian faith in science class and teaches the Bible as scientific fact, claiming that the Big Bang never happened and that evolution is a “stupid” theory that “stupid people made up because they don’t want to believe in God.” Paintings of Jesus Christ, Bible verses, and devotional affirmations adorn the walls of classrooms and hallways. A lighted electronic marquee placed just outside the building scrolls Bible verses every day. And staff members routinely lead students in Christian prayer.
Later in the lawsuit, it is revealed that Ms. Roark expects her students to either quote scripture or proclaim that the Lord is amazing at the bottom of each of her science exams in order to receive extra credit. In a social sciences class that Ms. Roark also teachers, she presents Biblical stories as “100% true”.
C.C.’s parents reportedly complained to Sabine Parish superintendent Sara Ebarb, who defended Ms. Roark. Superintendent Ebarb told C.C.’s parents that “this is the Bible Belt” where proselytizing on behalf of a Christian God should be expected in the classroom, and then subsequently asked whether C.C. could change his faith to better suit the will of his science teacher.
Ebarb went on to profess her tolerance for the Buddhist faith by saying: “the lady who cuts my toenails has a statue of Buddha” and that she doesn’t find that offensive.
Ebarb concluded the meeting by suggesting that C.C. transfer to a high school 25 miles away where “there are more Asians”, although she offered no school bus transportation for pursuit of this solution. The next day, Ebarb wrote an email to the Negreet High School principal Gene Wright, praising his defense of Roark’s religious beliefs.
Thankfully, Judge Elizabeth Foote agreed with the clear and obvious violation of religious freedom being practiced at Negreet High School, and ruled this week to halt all further mandated religious activities at the school. In addition to other rulings, teachers are now prohibited from their classrooms to proselytize, or from denigrating students based on their religious faith.
Finally, all school board members and current faculty are required to attend an ACLU-approved training session about the First Amendment.
But, really, the system is clearly broken if this kind of behaviour was allowed to persist in a public school in the first place. Next time a Creationist tells you they are trying to “teach the debate”, remember that this rarely actually happens in the classroom.
Too often, Creationism is as intolerant of religious faith as they claim science to be.