October 23, 2005

"We hope this project will be fun for all!"

Antonio, when he was 5 (in 1999), made a poster for his kindergarten class which the teacher folded in half before displaying. The problem was that Antonio had put a cutout image of Jesus on his poster (which he thought fit the environmentalism theme), and the public school teacher was worried about violating the Establishment Clause. The Second Circuit reverses a grant of summary judgment in favor of the school.

Here's the PDF of the text of the decision, Peck vs. Baldwinsville School District, which contains this description of the assignment that was sent home to the parents:
To enhance the student’s understanding of his environment, we are askingstudents to make an environmental poster at home and bring it to school by June 4th. These posters will be on display at our program. The children may use pictures or words, drawn or cut out of magazines or computer drawn by the children depicting ways to save our environment, i.e. pictures of the earth, water, recycling, trash, trees etc. This should be done by the student with your assistance. The poster should be able to fit in the child’s backpack. We hope this project will be fun for all!
Oh, it was fun all right!

Here's the mother's description of the first attempt at making a poster:
[S]he and Antonio sat down together one night to do the poster, and she told Antonio that the school wanted him to do a poster on how to save the environment. Antonio responded, according to [the mother, Joanne] Peck, that the only way to save the world was through Jesus. Peck then provided Antonio with art materials and some magazines, and Antonio selected pictures, cut them out, and, with his mother’s assistance, arranged them on a piece of paper. Antonio (who could not read) told his mother what he wanted the poster to say, and Peck wrote out what Antonio said so that he could include the words on to the poster.

This poster, which was turned in to [the teacher Susan] Weichert, was comprised of the following images: a robed figure (who is described by both parties as “Jesus”) kneeling and raising his hands to the sky, two children on a rock bearing the word “Savior,” and the Ten Commandments. Written on the poster were the phrases, “the only way to save our world,” “prayer changes things,” “Jesus loves children,” “God keeps his promises,” and “God’s love is higher than the heavens.”
A complete failure to do the assignment, right? But the boy is only 5. What difference does it make? The teacher tells the mother to do a new poster if she wants it to be exhibited in the cafeteria along with the other kids' posters.
[The mother] again assisted Antonio in selecting images (from the computer and from a religiously-themed coloring book), and in arranging pictures on the poster. The second poster depicted, on its left side, the same robed, praying figure pictured in the first poster. It also showed, in the center, a church with a cross. To the right of the church were pictures of people picking up trash and placing it in a recycling can, of children holding hands encircling the globe, and of clouds, trees, a squirrel, and grass.
This poster was displayed partially folded over to conceal the Jesus image. There is an interesting fact question here about how the school would generally treat irrelevant images, and the deposition testimony indicates that the child would have been asked to explain how the image related to what they'd studied. With the image of Jesus, the school did not ask and assumed the child's message was that God would save the environment, though it makes some sense to think that religious belief would motivate some people to behave virtuously in matters environmental.

As a matter of free speech analysis, the questions are whether the school engaged in viewpoint discrimination and if so whether avoiding endorsing religion is a compelling state interest justifying that discrimination.

The court does not in any way acknowledge the general problems schools face when parents (and students), fired by religious zeal, look upon every school assignment as an opportunity to send their religious message into the classroom.


David A. Carlson said...

It’s a very strange doctrine that would silence only religiously grounded moral viewpoints" - Mary Ann Glendon

Ann Althouse said...

Strange, but possibly quite sensible once you think it through. Kids are compelled to go to school, and religious zealots can feel a lot of compulsion to waylay every lesson. Would you want your young child in a class with several kids who were actively turning every topic to religion. Assume the religion is not your religion. I think trusting the teacher's judgment up to a point is better than having too much litigation. Would you want your tax money funding the litigation that has befallen this school district for folding a poster in half?

Ann Althouse said...

Important note: Don't confuse this case with a case where someone else's parent demands that a school fold the poster in half but the teacher thought it was okay to display it! I wouldn't look too kindly on that parent's litigious ways either. I think the doctrine should give the teachers some room to rely on their own good judgment.

ziemer said...


how about indoctrinating 5-year-olds into the religion of envirofacism?

mcparsons said...

I think the family's real offense was interfering with the true state religion: environmentalism. Just try sending your kid to school with the idea that recycling is a waste of resources. The reaction is pretty indistiguishable from that of a church to heresy.

Roy Lofquist said...

"fired by religious zeal".?????

Ann, I was around for the Army/McCarthy hearings. McCarthy was a piker compared to the current overwhelming assault on freedom of expression. I am sorely disappointed that you are on that side.

W.B. Reeves said...

Good luck getting a decent discussion going on this one. You're dealing with folks who believe the assignment was an expression of "envirofascism" and the "state religion of enviromentalism." I shudder to think what they would have made of my grade school assignments making posters against littering and in support of proper crosswalk etiquette.

The Drill SGT said...

Disclosure: a. Not religious in the slightest, (though culturally Christian). b. from a family of schools teachers.

1. Given that there were issues on whether the child had done the work, and whether it was applicable to the assignment, I find it particularly troubling that neither the teacher nor principal EVER asked the little boy to whether he had done it and what it meant to him. It seems to me that this was a knee jerk reaction to the keep the school free of religion. I have this vision of the teacher holding up a necklace of garlic (can't use a cross metaphor here) when the "robed figure" attempts to enter the classroom. I think it's a free speech issue, plain and simple.

2. I read the opinion and the depositions of the parent and teacher. It seems to me that this was a case of free speech by a child and that the government was censoring viewpoints. As I said at the top, I am NOT religious at all. I do have a problem with the government attempting to wipe out (reminds me of the Stalinist revisions of May Day pictures) all references to religion in our society.

W.B. Reeves said...

BTW, like you, I am sceptical of this being the "free expression" of a five year old sans any parental influence. Particularly in the case of the second poster.

ziemer said...


i'll accept that the kid didn't do the assignment, and that the kid's parent is trying to waylay every activity into their jesus freak religion.

the fact remains that envirofacism is the official public school religion.

Paul said...

This has all gone beyond ridiculous. The teacher doesn't have to explain or defend the poster of a five year old.
The five year old can explain his poster, then we, or they, simply move on to the next which may contain a picture of a golden calf. Who cares? And who takes it so seriously that litigation is necessary?
I know we have a plethora of attorneys looking for work, perhaps this is why new subjects are continuously explored. For instance, the military is coming under litigious scrutiny they never had to face.

Ann Althouse said...

Roy: I'm not saying all religious people are overzealous and proselytizing. I'm just saying it happens sometimes and it shouldn't be too easy to sue schools that are trying to make reasonable judgment calls for the benefit of all the students.

Drill Sgt: As my post indicates, I too think the child ought to have been allowed to show his poster. But the teacher seems not to have been hostile to religion. She made a judgment call, and it was not unreasonable.

WB: Thanks.

By the way, I agree that schools today indulge in too much environmentalism, but I don't think it's wrong to train young people in civic virtues.

XWL said...

What chaos would ensue if Secular Humanism were elevated in the eyes of the court to the status of a religion.

Rather than censoring all expressions of faith but the one true faith (multi-culti secular humanism) maybe public schools should let people express who they are and who they are being brought up to be without rancor and accept that Jesus freaks have rights too.

Better yet, compulsory public school education is an experiment, like prohibition, or strong enforcement of anti-trust laws, whose time has come and passed.

EddieP said...

5 year olds and saving the the environment? That's not teaching and learning, that's indoctrination!

ziemer said...


well put. i'm with you.

Ann Althouse said...

XWL: Picture your little child in a class where the most extraverted kids are Satanists and Scientologists.

Unknown said...

Seems like a classic over reaction to me.

Let's stipulate that the parent played a heavy handed role. Happens in every classroom in America every day.

Did the poster accurately reflect the thinking of the five year old? Possibly but who knows.

Was the poster offensive? Certainly not in any way that could possible violate the First Amendment.

Does the poster establish a religion? Not in this universe.

So what do we have? The teacher apparently fears the ACLU more than she values common sense. What possible harm might come from allowing the poster to be displayed without censor? Millions of people in the United States believe that prayer can help to solve real problems--like pollution--including the President.

Mumbo jumbo you might say. Perhaps, but no more than half the crap tossed off as global warming science.

The kid should have smeared goat crap on his drawing. He'd have been hailed as a genius.

PatCA said...

It was one of 17 posters--obviously 17 different ways of expressing envirofascism (hey, I like that word!). Even if the kid was in high school, no way was it guilty of "establishment."

Isn't tolerance a two-way street?

Wait, I think I know the answer to that.

You-know-what is coming! I can't wait to go out and buy and decorate my big green...thingamabob tree.

The Drill SGT said...

I grew up in California and attended public school there. (occasionally my mother was my substitute teacher).

I wonder how the material taught has changed over the years. I clearly remember that in 4th grade we had "California History" with US and World History in 5th and 6th. I expect we had community history before that.

For those of you who aren't from out West, the history of California (non-Indian) was driven by 2 things.

1. The Spanish Missionaries, who founded the missions:

[1. San Diego de Alcalá] [2. San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo] [3. San Antonio de Padua] [4. San Gabriel Arcángel] [5. San Luis Obispo de Tolosa] [6. San Francisco de Asís] [7. San Juan Capistrano] [8. Santa Clara de Asís] [9. San Buenaventura] [10. Santa Bárbara] [11. La Purísima Concepción] [12. Santa Cruz] [13. Nuestra Señora de la Soledad] [14. San José] [15. San Juan Bautista] [16. San Miguel Arcángel] [17. San Fernando Rey de España] [18. San Luis Rey de Francia] [19. Santa Inés] [20. San Rafael Arcángel] [21. San Francisco Solano]

Those are the major settlements and cities of modern California

2. The Gold Rush, centered on Sutter's Fort in Sacramento (though I assume the name comes from Spanish for sacrament)

I can't imagine the material I learned surviving today's religion-free environment. Can you envision a mention of Father Sierra (ya, the one the mountains are named for) founding missions? Teaching Indians and preaching to them?

I shudder at the thought. Twas a more benign time.

W.B. Reeves said...


the fact remains that envirofacism is the official public school religion.

The "fact is" I doubt you'll find the term "envirofascism" in any public school lesson plan. What does the term communicate anyway, other than your hostility to environmentalism?


5 year olds and saving the the environment? That's not teaching and learning, that's indoctrination!

The line between education and doctrination isn't terribly clear when dealing with 5 year olds since the vast majority are not capable of effectively challenging anything an adult might tell them.

Old Dad,

So what do we have? The teacher apparently fears the ACLU more than she values common sense. What possible harm might come from allowing the poster to be displayed without censor?

I sympathize with the sentiment that this case shouldn't have reached litigation. However, the teacher was reportedly concerned about violating the law, not in fear of the ACLU. As for harm, neither you nor I have any idea what the religious composition of the student body was, so we are in no position to know what reaction the poster might have touched off.

As a Southern Protestant child I attended both schools where I was a minority among an overwhelmingly Jewish student body and schools where the Administration thought nothing of putting posters announcing Christian Revival meetings on hallway bulletin boards. I also witnessed teachers using prayer to humiliate and abuse students of differing religious persuasions. I've seen enough harm done in the name of religion to last me several lifetimes. Children do not deserve to be made pawns of the religious wars carried on by "adults".

Anonymous said...

The children were to "depict ways to save the environment." I'm not religious at all, but I do believe that the kids first poster completely fit the assignment, because we're just as likely to save the environment through prayer as we are through recycling.

If the assignment was to depict a scene of nature, or to make an anti-littering poster, that would be a different story. But when asked to depiction a way to save the environment a child's religious opinion is as relevant and any other.

Undecided said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
vnjagvet said...

I believe the Second Circuit panel was correct in reversing and sending this case back to the trial court which had held for the school system as a matter of law. There were material facts yet to be resolved.

Specifically, the motives of the teacher and principal in rejecting the first poster, and the motive of the school system in covering up the religious expression on the second were still in dispute.

It seems plain to me that if the government school's motives were to censor the religious expression of the kindergartner, the government school violated the free exercise clause.

On the other hand, if a government school official indicates any preference of one child's religious expression over that of another, there is a violation of the establishment clause.

If this were the teacher's poster, it would be clearly be in violation of the establishment clause, but I see no reason for a government agency to restrict the religious expression of any non-employee citizen, even if that citizen is an extrovert or an member of a vocal majority.

Undecided said...

I, as the kindergarten teacher, would have allowed the second full-length Jesus poster (although I may have hung it in the cloakroom). Then being a dutiful teacher, I would create a realistic Jesus poster depicting a robed Jesus character (with forked tongue) in the act of fouling the air, water, food, as well as being the ultimate cause of global warming, the Bopal disaster, Katrina, earthquakes, diseases, cancer in children, etc.

I would point the finger of blame and shame where it belongs, on the One who both causes and allows evil to exist in the world. Two can play this idiotic game.

bearing said...

The kid probably didn't make his own poster. A lot of the work, and much of the idea, came from his mom, most likely.

Neither, probably, did many of the other kids. Were their posters subject to the same scrutiny?

This is clear-cut viewpoint discrimination. And yes: Freedom of religion means all religions, and the hypothetical five-year-old Scientologist has the same right.

DRJ said...

"The court does not in any way acknowledge the general problems schools face when parents (and students), fired by religious zeal, look upon every school assignment as an opportunity to send their religious message into the classroom."

I am at a loss to understand how you know that Antonio and his mother used "every school assignment" to send their religious message into the classroom, let alone how you know they were "fired by religious zeal".

The instructions for the assignment were: "This should be done by the student with your assistance." Wasn't this mother simply helping her child complete an assignment as instructed? I'm not convinced that it wasn't the child's idea - my children believed in Jesus at 5 and talked about His love for all people and animals.

So perhaps Antonio was influenced by things he heard at church or at home and he incorporated them into his schoolwork. Now that he's in school, he will learn and similarly incorporate those ideas into his worldview. And someday he will watch TV news and read newspapers and the internet, and those will impact his views.

But even if this was the mother's idea, so what if she included a lesson in her family's morals, values and religion? In other words, maybe the mother was teaching her 5-YEAR-OLD son something and it wasn't an attempt to indoctrinate the rest of the students.

I do agree that if the teacher didn't want to display the poster (fearing it was offensive because it was "too" religious), then she should have that choice. But I would prefer that she had not have posted it at all, rather than alter it to conform to the secular agenda.

ziemer said...


i used to use the term, "earthmuffins" to refer to the environmentalists, and think they were harmless.

but as they got more militant, and as it became more clear that their objective was not protecting the environment, but a mao-tse-tung style cultural revolution, it became necesssary to use a term that more accurately reflected their agenda:


John Thacker said...

It does seem to me that the lesson plan, especially as taught to five year olds, was explicitly moral to start with and an attempt to inculcate values. In modern day public schools, we generally refrain from attempting to inculcate religion. (It was done in the past-- many of the bans on public funds going to private and religious schools, as they do in the Netherlands and many other countries, originated in a time where public schools did include "ecumenical" generic Protestant Bible studies and the like.) However, certain other values and moral sentiments we feel free to instill into young children, even if they do not match those of the children or their parents.

Indeed, people who would vociferously oppose instilling certain values that they disagree with (and even some with which they agree) into schoolchildren strongly support instilling other moral values into them. People attempt to search for some sort of distinction, of course; for example, the State, being a democracy, is generally permitted to attempt to instill respect for itself and the workings of democracy as the civic religion. History has its own controversies-- one will find different schools putting their own biases into place, certainly.

Environmentalism is a tougher nut. While for many it approaches something of obvious manners, or even science, there are substantial scientific criticisms of environmentalism, especially of forced recycling, which can be outright harmful to the environmental and wasteful of energy. Alas, when teaching to five year olds, "teaching the controversy" is not really possible. And thus you have your young child in a class where the teacher actively turns the topic to that of the civic religion, and thinks nothing of calling you evil for believing what you do, even if it is based on solid scientific and economic research.

I think that the term "envirofascism" is far too heavily loaded, unfair, and symptomatic of a larger problem of calling everything "fascism." But I also think that elementary school education contains large amounts of moral instruction in the civic religion, even when parents disagree, and in many cases I find what is taught and the way in which it is taught difficult to distinguish from religious instruction.

ziemer said...

regardless, the real outrage here is that this a five-year-old child who didn't know how to read yet. and the assignment was due june 4, so he'd apparently been in school an entire year already.

and both the school and his mother seem to think its more iportant to indoctrinate him than to teach him the skills needed to resist such indoctrination.

reader_iam said...

OK, I'll address the elephant I've not yet seen mentioned here--but it was the one of the first things I thought about when I first encountered this story previously.
Environmentalism and Christianity--or any other religion, for that matter--are not antithetical. The word missing here is Stewardship. In that context, it certainly can make sense to bring religion into it, if that happens to be one of your motivations. It doesn't necessarily mean there's zealotry involved.

(Btw, I'm not going to speak to all the specifics of this case, but rather more to the generality, since this isn't an isolated tension. Personally, I'd say the 1st picture probably crossed the line, but better to ignore it; the 2nd one should have passed muster.)

My own child has made a similar connection (in the second poster sense, not the first poster sense), and not because of any browbeating on our part (and we discourage religious talk at school). However, we have talked about caring for the environment, from early on, from a scientific perspective, a consideration-for-others-perspective, and a religious one--that is, the world is a gift which we are required to respect and care for, because it is our duty and a way we show a love of God and others--including generations to come.
You don't have to be a zealot, megachurcher, fundamentalist, or anything else to be able to appreciate the intent behind that. In fact, many "mainstream," "liberal" churches teach exactly that philosophy.
The ECUSA, which as I'm sure you all know, is not known, generally speaking, for its fundamentalism DOES explicitly link Christianity and environmentalism via stewardship; specifically, for example, there's a policy which strongly discourages the use of paper products and encourages recycling st local congregatioins. (This just came up recently when planning for a festival, and an objection to using throway dishes etc. was raised on the basis of environmental stewardship.)
Yes, I also understand that some recyling and environmental programs do have problems in terms of efficacy, depending on how and what factors/outcomes you're evaluating. But I'm primarily interested in the stewardship issue, whether it's a reasonable idea, and whether it's reasonable for a child motivated in that way to be allowed to express it via a poster. (Sheesh, it's not like this was a 30-slide PowerPoint presented at a mandatory-attendance assembly, with a quiz afterward.)
One final point: I agree that it would be inappropriate to permit constant lesson-hi-jacking (for any reason or one viewpoint, for that matter) or outright proselyzation (actually, that WOULD be a violation). On the other hand, there's something to be said for the fact that ALL people, ALL kids, need to learn that others have different viewpoints and it's part of life to have to put up with other people's expression of opinions and motivations you don't share. Who wants to raise our future generations with "shrinking violet minds," such that they feel faint at the expression of what they feel is not P.C. (smile)?
I would not go back to the "bad old days," but we've flipped so far in the other direction that we're creating "bad NEW days." With, IMHO, increasing intolerance and stridency on BOTH sides of the coin.

reader_iam said...

By "elephant," I meant primarily the actual word stewardship. I did read where Ann acknowledged a possible connection between religion and environmentalism.

Simon said...

Presumably, if the teacher had neglected to discuss during the course of the class, say, recycling plastic, a student who produced a poster suggesting reclycling plastic, or some other non-curricularized means of saving the planet would similarly be regarded as having violated the terms of the assignment?

Furthermore, the terms of the assignment said that all the posters produced would be on display - presumably, the school endorses the courses of action displayed in all the posters?

The whole thing seems to rest on the assumption that either Children are so feeble-minded - or that God is so powerfull a draw - that a child will drop to their knees and give their lives to Christ upon first contact with religious imagery outside of a private setting. This seems to absurd (or at least, interally contradictory) to sustain. Children are far more likely to be influenced by their parents' religious views and practises than by a poster produced by one of their chums which is displayed along with numerous other such offerings.

The question, so far as it exists, is whether or not the school violated the first amendment by declaring (in effect) that God cannot save the environment. The answer seems to be yes.

Ann Althouse said...

DRJ: "I am at a loss to understand how you know that Antonio and his mother used "every school assignment" to send their religious message into the classroom..." Well, I never said that about them. I used a hypothetical to stress the problem that the court ought to take account of when it makes a general rule that schools will have to follow. And I do think the school should have felt free to be more accommodating to the boy and his mother as they expressed themselves. What I don't like is the lawsuit against the school for the judgment that it made (and you agree with me on that).

W.B. Reeves said...


but as they got more militant, and as it became more clear that their objective was not protecting the environment, but a mao-tse-tung style cultural revolution, it became necesssary to use a term that more accurately reflected their agenda:

Either you're joking or you know nothing about the Cutural Revolution. Whichever it is, both render serious conversation problematic.


The whole thing seems to rest on the assumption that either Children are so feeble-minded - or that God is so powerfull a draw - that a child will drop to their knees and give their lives to Christ upon first contact with religious imagery outside of a private setting.

Not at all. The crux is whether parents can have a reasonable expectation that their children won't be subjected to unapproved religious proselytizing in the school house.

I'm rather amazed that, with all the concern for religious expression being voiced, few have paid attention to the rights of parents to oversee their children's religious training free from the importunings of others using a child for a surrogate.

W.B. Reeves said...


regardless, the real outrage here is that this a five-year-old child who didn't know how to read yet. and the assignment was due june 4, so he'd apparently been in school an entire year already.

Things may have changed since my day but when I was in kindergarten we were'nt taught reading skills other than learning the alphabet. Learning to read began when we entered First grade. We were'nt expected to be reading fluently until we completed second grade.

Bruce Hayden said...

I am troubled by the school's and the lower court's decision for a number of reasons.

I wouldn't have thought of the idea of tying religion and environmental stewardship together. But arguably this kid did. So, by essentially shaming him and denying the validity of his choices, the school is saying that that tie is not valid. That, to me, is speech (and maybe even religion) suppression. If this were a private school, it wouldn't be troubling. But, as a public school, it is the state speaking telling the kid (and his mother) that this is not a valid point of view and that the environment and Christianity have no connection (and, indeed, arguably, that the former is superior).

Secondly, let us assume for a minute that the parent subtely pushed her kid in that direction. So what? We have two forces here. The teacher and school pushing that there is no connection between Christianity and stewardship of the environment, and the parent pushing that there is. Why should the school (i.e. the state) win here? Isn't the state the one that is supposed to be neutral here? Yet, you have a lower court saying that the state should take precedence here.

chuck b. said...

It's funny the kid (and/or parent--whatever) really focused in on the word "saving". Seems kinda natural if you're a Jesus freak. Which, apparently, may of us are.

If the assignment asked students to think about being better "stewards" of the environment instead, it probably would have been less confusing--and far more educational. I think a five-year-old can handle the concept of stewardship.

"Saving" things (besides money) seems kind of vacuous and invokes a whole host of secondary meanings. And, as we can see in the comments, opens the door to charges of "fascism". Unless one also sees fascism in the urge to be better stewards.

Regardless, given the facts in this situation, I totally agree w/ the blogmaster.

knox said...

Not all environmentalists are enviro-fascists, but clearly the proponents of low-consumption toilets were crazy.

TopCat said...


I find it Kafkaesque that you see two sided to this issue - the teacher is a nut with less sence than Barney Fife handing out tickets for jaywalking.

First, why is the lazy slob making five year olds do their assignments as homework anyway - as a single father raising four boys I've always found that the teacher's assigning these artsy-fartsy projects as homework are the least competent, unmotivated teachers in the teacher's union.

Second, what if the student recomended we commit blasphemy against Gaia by drilling in ANWR, I'm sure the establishment clause wouldn't help them in that instance.

Simon said...

"Not at all. The crux is whether parents can have a reasonable expectation that their children won't be subjected to unapproved religious proselytizing in the school house."

If people have a problem with their children being indoctrinated into viewpoints one doesn't necessarily like, they should be kept indoors and away from television. The world (and, even more so, the public school system) is nothing BUT a feature presentation on values and values systems, some or more of which may be different to one's own. The solution is to give the child intellectual tools to resist. It's no different to illness - if you want your kid to get sick, there is no surer way to do so than to keep him away from germs.

michael a litscher said...

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion...

Had a public school teacher instructed the students to make a poster depicting how a belief in Christ was necessary to save the environment, then there'd be an arguable violation of the establishment clause.

...or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...

Yea, the part liberals conveniently forget when they're busy censoring the free exercize of religious beliefs, which is exactly what we have here.

ziemer said...


right on.


things have changed alot. you should become aware of it.

the environmentalists are not harmless earthmuffins, as i used to think, and you apparently still do.

let's establish common ground.

i consider the clean water act to be one of, if not, the best law passed in the 20th century.

but i challenge you to name even one objective on the envirofacists' current agenda that would would cause far more harm to the environment than benefit.

everything on their agenda has one objective, and one objective only: the termination of private property.

ziemer said...

oops, i mean, name one objective on the envirofacists' agenda that would actually benefit the environment, rather than harm it.

KCFleming said...

The teacher's behavior is entirely consistent with the rigid anti-religious stance taken by US public schools. All references to the Judeo-Christian religions are forbidden. All others are welcome as part of multiculturalism.

This pattern is a common one, routinely noted by parents. Teachers excise all possible Judeo-Christian references from daily life, to the point that Christmas and Halloween items such as Santa and jack-o-lanterns are forbidden. Snowmen and pumpkins are okay, however.

People are pushing back against this European anti-religious view, especially because it is selectively prohibitive of the two major religions of the West. But people are also pushing back because the public school practice of hypersensitivity against Jesus and Yahweh so frequently results in blatantly stupid and over-reaching acts like this.

Dana said...

W.B. Reeves--little has changed. My daughter was in second grade last year in a public school in the deep south. She routinely came home reciting Bible verses and singing Christian songs. She even mentioned that the teacher told them they should not say that they learned these in school! Her classroom assignments included drawing the crosses on the hill where Jesus was crucified. I just wish my daughter and Antonio could swap schools.

Bruce Hayden said...


But we are talking about just the opposite here. You are talking about the state pushing in favor of a religion. That is, of course, wrong under the 1st Amdt.

In the case cited by Ann, we are talking about the state doing just the opposite. It is imposing speech and restricting the free exercise of religion, which is, to me, equally bad, under the 1st Amdt.

I don't like either one. The state should be neutral in religious matters. I don't see it being so in this case.

Bennett said...

There is a lot of paranoia on this topic. We are trying to keep public schools comfortable and productive for all students. Of course that means that Christmas, Hannukah, etc. are going to have to be celebrated outside of school. How can it be otherwise?

At the same time, the exclusion of religious practice (including celebration of religious holidays) should not equal a gag order on religion. Religions should be examined, surveyed, and taught in the context of history, literature, etc.

I think many Christians are upset that Christianity is being taught in context with, and without precedence over, other religions. Where Christian messages are restrained, it's not as though, say, Hindu messages, are being let in. Where they are let in, they often have to share the forum with other viewpoints, and reasonably so.

Teachers have a real job to do without being so tightly regulated. Under this particular conflict within the First Amednment, they can't comfortably discuss religion, and yet they must permit students to do so...?

Teachers should be bound by a basic standard of religious neutrality, and then explicitly be given discretion to work within that standard. The court should cut a comfortably wide swath between the Establishment clause and Free Speech (with respect to individual religious expression), and give discretion to teachers, if not to state agencies as a whole, to make these case-by-case decisions.

The courts should be rendering more readable and useful decisions these types of balancing acts, instead of continually loading the powder keg with abstract and seemingly ad-hoc standards (the Ten Commandments cases come to mind). This issue would be a good place to start.

Ziemer: I confess unfamiliarity with the environmentalist aspects of a typical PS curriculum, but you seem hysterical about the subject. You mainly point to the fact that you were converted from merely ridiculing environmentalists to actively despising them. Is this supposed to be convincing?

KCFleming said...

I am rather tired of most public schools (apparently excluding 'the deep south') so afraid of jayzus cooties that it reads the 'establishment' clause as necessitating exlcusion of all Judeo-Christian religious words and imagery.

In Minnesota, we are allowed to have decorations with pumpkins for a 'fall festival', but not if they are carved, because it implies Halloween, which implies ...jayzus. I kid you not.

And I need Ann Althouse's opinion here. Is there any reason for teachers and school superintendants to act this way? Are they really going to get in trouble for permitting a 5 year old's picture from having God in it?

Ann Althouse said...

Pogo: They need to worry about getting sued, but both sides can sue, so it's impossible to avoid litigation. The law needs to be made a lot clearer in this area.

KCFleming said...

Thank you Ann.
Is thera a manner in which lawyers gauge the actual risk of this occurring? Or do lawyers simply use "low-medium-high" when discussing risk?

All businesses face litigation, but have limited funds. In deciding what risks to guard against, one would likely favor risk management centering on high-risk high payout areas, high frequency areas of whatever risk, and attending to lower risk infrequent items last, if at all.

Are schools more likely to be sued by (1) parents like this who are offended by school over-reaching, or (2) parents who see "establishment" in a 5-yr-old's crayon drawing?

It seems to me that schools tend to focus more on low-likelihood events, and then make errors like this that strike many people (okay, me) as, well, sorta dumb.

Ann Althouse said...

Pogo: The simplest solution for the school would be to eliminate displays! More modestly: don't involve the parents in making the posters, and specify the elements of the assignments very clearly and teach students how to stay on the task and to understand what is relevant.

Bennett said...

Pogo: It might strike you as dumb, and I'm not saying it's 100% rational - but if I was the teacher, tacking up a picture of JC in the classroom, even among a group of other kids' pictures, I would be nervous.

And why not? The display of the picture is more than permitting speech by students. By displaying the picture, the school is amplifying and disseminating the child's religious message.

First, it could be construed as toeing the "advancement of religion" line.

Second, it would set a precedent where no other religious expression by any student could be nixed by the school, as to do so would be too subjective.

The schools, and the teachers, are not wrong to keep this hot potato out of their hands.

So, sure, we could eliminate all displays. Or, preferably, the courts could issue a usable opinion giving teachers such as this one the ability to make the call with some assurances against lawsuits. Until then, a teacher will probably be marginally safer covering up the picture (an awkward move, but metaphorical for the half-baked nature of the legal standards) than displaying it.

KCFleming said...

Re: "By displaying the picture, the school is amplifying and disseminating the child's religious message. First, it could be construed as toeing the "advancement of religion" line."

No, it does neither of these things. Only a postmodernist tortuous twisting of logic could result in that interpretation. But that doesn't make it true. Your explanation of the underlying reasoning for the teacher's fear is even sillier than the one I imagined, but yours uses bigger words.

Most of these teapot tempests could be quelled by a school board with the foresight to have a community open discussion on the topic, lay down some rules, back them up, and provide a grievance procedure. That would cover 99% of the really dumb complaints.

Only an intellectual would believe that putting up one kid's drawing of jayzus among 17 classmember's ecosensitive pictures is "establishment" of religion. The regular adult's are rolling their eyes and saying, "Oh come ON."

Bennett said...

That's why I said it toes (as opposed to "crosses") the line. I don't really think this case is an example of the use of government for religious purposes. But it is in the ballpark. And where is the line?

That's why my second concern (which you dismissed without addressing) is really the bigger one. If one kid can post his religious drawing in a an assignment on environmentalism, the potential exists for school to become a duel of religious traditions, with the teachers powerless to say "enough". And even if it did not start out driven by the parents, it would eventually suck everyone in.

The kids, of course, would lose. Politics and religion do not help the public schools (ever, IMO, but especially when) when they are taking time and attention away from the basics. Reading, writing, 'rithmetic &c.

The bottom line, legally and in terms of common sense, is this: you need to draw a line that everyone can understand - no picking and choosing.

Personally, I would:

(a) permit any religious expression by students short of proselytizing that does not actually disrupt educational activities.

(b), give teachers wide discretion, based on context, to decide what is "proselytizing", and what is "disruptive", i.e. they would be immune from suit as long as they could rationally explain the basis for a particular decision at an administrative level.
_ i. The school or school board would be looking for rationality, not attempting First Amendment analysis.
_ ii. Like voting district cases in federal court, a showing of a First Amendment violation either establishing or repressing religion would require a showing of a consistent pattern of violations (but over months and years, not decades as with voting).

(c) Teachers should (still) not express their religious beliefs, or speak for or against any religion.

I'm sure there's problems with my standard. My point is that education and litigation-reduction should be key goals of any standard.

Bennett said...

I should add that the above standard does something important, which is to enable the state agency to head off problems by requiring a certain quantum of complaint to be directed to it before the courts will consider the claim. That alone should take care of most of the controversy while preserving accountability by the schools.

Also, it acknowledges that teachers have different styles and rules. We don't want cookie-cutter teachers and rules. Therefore, we should allow some play in the system for individual foibles. The institution should act as a safety against the extremity or accumulation of such foibles, and be accountable for its failures in this regard.

Sean E said...

"One final point: I agree that it would be inappropriate to permit constant lesson-hi-jacking (for any reason or one viewpoint, for that matter)... "

Yes! If a student is constantly injecting a viewpoint to the point it's becoming disruptive, then deal with the disruption. It should be dealt with the same whether the viewpoint is Christianity, Scientology, Marxism, or the philosphy of Donald Trump.

W.B. Reeves said...


In Minnesota, we are allowed to have decorations with pumpkins for a 'fall festival', but not if they are carved, because it implies Halloween, which implies ...jayzus. I kid you not.

Interesting. Down here the crusade against Halloween is spearheaded by church groups that denounce it as Satanic. They also go in for "alternatives" to the seasonal Haunted House attractions. The themes are usually the punishment of sin (botched abortions, people dying of aids, ad nauseum), the machinations of the devil (drugs, homosexuality, etc.)and of course the End Times. Pretty grisly too, by all accounts.

For the record, the Minnesota policy strikes me as idiotic.

David A. Carlson said...

Woo Hoo - Ann Responded to me. I feel, well, special.

After that - the question to me is:

Did the child's work respond to the assignment ( a matter of grading). The teacher should be free to do whatever.

Should the child's work be posted publicly? Either yes or no - the teacher is free to post whatever assignments they feel is appropriate

But to fold over part of the assignment? That to me sounds simply a matter of freedom of speach.

If the artwork is not worthy of posting - dont post it. If it is not responsive to the assignment - don't post it. But if it is responsive to the assignment, then the teacher should post it in it's entirety.

David A. Carlson said...

fyi, my wife is an art teacher. I feel for the teacher - some assignments that get turned in we look at together and wonder "what was this child thinking"