Sunday, January 26, 2014

Buddhist student harrassed, ridiculed, told to accept it, leave school or convert

Negreet High's version of separation of church and state

So here's a fascinating -- and by fascinating, I mean appalling -- case that the ACLU is filing on behalf of a local family, against a Louisiana school district and several officials/teachers. The family suffered a tremendous litany of unconstitutional behaviors directed against them, but they are perhaps best represented by the words of plaintiff Scott Lane, husband of plaintiff Sharon Lane, father of plaintiffs S.L and M.L, and stepfather of plaintiff C.C. He gives examples of some of the issues his Buddhist stepson encountered, and the disregard for constitutional separation of church and state is simply staggering:

On a science test, their teacher had included a fill-in-the-blank question: "ISN'T IT AMAZING WHAT THE _____________ HAS MADE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" When my stepson didn't know the answer ("Lord"), she belittled him in front of the entire class. When he wrote in "Lord Buddha" on another exam, she marked it wrong. As she was returning that exam to students, one student proclaimed aloud that "people are stupid if they think God is not real." In response, my stepson's teacher agreed, telling the class, "Yes! That is right! I had a student miss that on his test." The entire class broke out in laughter at my stepson.
The same teacher also told our children that the Bible is "100 percent true," that the Earth was created by God 6,000 years ago, and that evolution is "impossible" and a "stupid theory made up by stupid people who don't want to believe in God." She's also told the class that Buddhism is "stupid." (emphasis added)
While this particular teacher, Rita Roark, was especially problematic, Lane gives a number of other examples of the general atmosphere of the school, including that of defendant and school superintendent Sara Ebarb:
  • When we went to the school to meet with the principal, we saw a large picture of Jesus over the school's main doors, a Bible verse on the school's electronic marquee, and numerous religious posters and pictures on the walls. Religious images and messages are displayed throughout the school, in fact.
  • We learned from our children that official prayers, typically led by the principal or teachers, are routinely incorporated into class and school events like assemblies, and sporting events. The school even requires students to attend "See You at the Pole" each year, where they must take part in prayer and worship.
  • We discovered that school officials were distributing religious literature to students. For example, one of our other son's teachers passed out copies of a book from the "Truth For Youth" program, a revivalist ministry. The book included the entire New Testament of the Bible as well as cartoons that denounce evolution and trumpet the evils of birth control, premarital sex, rock music, alcohol, pornography, homosexuality, sorcery, and witchcraft. (emphasis added)
Supporting evidence is provided. But the embrace of religiosity and disregard for constitutional protections goes much higher than teachers and event coordinators. When the Lanes took their complaints to the school superintendent, she told them
that “[t]his is the Bible Belt” and that they would simply have to accept that teachers would proselytize students. She also asked whether C.C. had to be raised as a Buddhist and whether he could “change” his faith, and she suggested that C.C. transfer to another district school – more than 25 miles away where, in her words, “there are more Asians.” The day after meeting with the Lanes, the Superintendent sent a letter to Negreet Principal Gene Wright stating that she approved of Negreet’s official religious practices. Wright read the letter to the entire Negreet student body over the school’s public address system. (emphasis mine)
The superintendent's complete lack of comprehension of religious freedom is made more clear in the complaint, which details how she told the Lanes
that “[t]eachers have religious freedom.” She further stated that “if they were in a different country,” Plaintiffs would see “that country’s religion everywhere,” and that, therefore, they “shouldn’t be offended” to “see God here.” Purporting to illustrate her point further, she noted that, because she did not find it offensive that “the lady who cuts [her] toenails has a statue of Buddha,” Plaintiffs should not be bothered by Roark’s in-class proselytization.

In her mind, "freedom" is not a freedom to hold a belief, but a freedom to force others to hold that belief. The illogicality of such a position is made apparent when one considers what happens when you have people who hold different beliefs exercising this "freedom". Furthermore, Ebarb's response to the family -- that C.C. should go elsewhere, because he was in the Bible belt -- illustrates that her view of religious freedom is entirely one sided. It is not freedom, and it extends only to Christians.

It is worth noting that, while C.C. did transfer, he is still subject to much of the same religious harassment. Even if that were not the case, it should go without saying that no child, and no family, should have to go half an hour out of their way each morning simply to avoid being harassed and intimidated -- much less by authority figures -- for praying to Lord Buddha (or not praying at all) rather than Lord Jesus.

And while C.C.'s troubles are not over, neither are those of his siblings (one of whom is a Christian):
Plaintiffs S.L. and M.L. are minor children and brothers to C.C. They are both enrolled at Negreet High School, where they are subject to the customs, policies, and practices of Defendants Sabine Parish School Board, Superintendent Ebarb, and Principal Wright. Although M.L. attends church, he believes that faith is a personal matter. He believes that he should be able to decide, with the guidance of his parents and religious leaders, which beliefs he will follow and when, as well as how to express those beliefs, without pressure from his teachers and school officials. S.L. is a non-believer who does not subscribe to the religious beliefs promoted by schools officials.
 It's simply mind boggling that adults would think that doing this to children was in any way appropriate, much less legal.



    This map make me ill, but I suppose, it explains Louisiana... How can I help this family?

    1. Hi Rachel,

      That's an excellent question. I haven't been able to find anything by way of an answer, but I will be sure to post it if I do.


  2. To Rita Roark, and all involved in the the travesty of your humiliation of a child: As a woman who has worked with children for over 30 years in the schools, and now as a Park Ranger, I am shocked and appalled that ANYONE working with ANY child or children of GOD would dare to humiliate an innocent child based on their religious beliefs of how they choose to love God.. How dare you?! That is not freedom, it is oppression based on your beliefs alone. That is why the English and many other people from other countries came to this country to be free of religious persecution! What part of Satan are you embracing, Rita Roark?! Please look within your own soul. That you could do that to another child is appalling and SO wrong on So many levels, Please pray for forgiveness and then ask for it, from God, your student, his family and ALL of us!!

  3. One of the interesting things that I found among the comments was not finding a mention to the fact that Buddhists do not pray to Buddha. Buddhists strive to become a Buddha by leading ethical and moral lives and by gaining wisdom through enlightenment and perceiving a reality without dualities, i.e., a unity without separations into "me" and "that" or "me" and "you." When looked at through such a lense, Jesus would could have been a Buddhist.

    1. Jesus was Jewish. I had that beaten into my head in Catholic school. At any rate, the bible belt needs a lawsuit, all 20 something states of it. There may be smatterings of fundamental influence in the North as well, here in NY theres Whitehall and Watertown if you're into that kind of thing.

    2. Jesus was Jewish. I had that beaten into my head in Catholic school. At any rate, the bible belt needs a lawsuit, all 20 something states of it. There may be smatterings of fundamental influence in the North as well, here in NY theres Whitehall and Watertown if you're into that kind of thing.

  4. Given the horrendous co-minglng of religion and public education reported in this article, you should also have the parents contact the Freedom from Religion Foundation, as they are quite willing to sue in such cases.

  5. As a professional educator for 24 years, the question that jumped to my mind was this: Given the demonstrated lack of professionalism, academic integrity, personal ethics or any actual morality, how did these 'educators' earn degrees, become certified to teach, and acquire employment? I am flabbergasted. I am profoundly embarrassed by my profession's representatives depicted in this story. On behalf of real educators everywhere, I offer my sympathies and sincerest hope that this family is able to find a place for their children where public school is what it is meant to be, a place where they are taught to learn and learn to teach themselves and not the house of ignorance which seems bent on preventing education. I am also sorry that it seems that your search seems to have been fruitless so far.

  6. A woman that would belittle a child for his faith is not a follower of Christ

  7. Your stepson will be much stronger from the experiences he's subjected to in that school. The ignorance those folks that ridicule him live in will get them nowhere but a hell of an existence.