Thursday, April 26, 2007

First Amendment: Protection FROM Christianity

The following story was published in Hilliard This Week, April 26, 2007:

Prayer in the schools became an issue recently when a resident questioned the "disruption" of it during a regular Hilliard school board meeting.

The only thing that surprised Darby High School Principal Dave Stewart about Jim Slubowski's concern that students were leaving the classroom in the middle of a teacher's presentation to pray was the timing. "It is during a very specific period of time," Stewart said, "at a very specific time of day."

Typically during Ramadan, he said, students who are of the Muslim faith, or believe in Islam, seek out a room at the school to pray.

"It's only during Ramadan," said Stewart.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Moslem year and a time for 30 days of fasting as well as prayer.

"During that period of time for Muslim students, it is much more critical, according to their faith, that they pray at very specific times," Stewart said. "There is only one time during the school day that happens. This is not something that goes on on an ongoing basis all day long or all year long."

Ramadan was in the fall. Stewart was surprised to learn that Slubowski, a resident of Packard Drive, attended a meeting in March to voice concerns about the "disruption" in the classroom because of students leaving for prayer.

Michelle Wray, school-community relations coordinator, said the school district can neither encourage nor prevent prayer in school.

"I think a lot of people think that with the whole separation of church and state, that prayer isn't allowed in school," she said. "That is not the case. We can't endorse it, and we can't require it. We can't discriminate against anyone either, so we need to do what we can to make sure we are meeting the needs of students without disrupting the education of themselves and others."

Stewart said he has never had a request from anyone of the Christian-based faiths for prayer time, but schools in the United States are typically scheduled around the religious holidays of Christianity.

"With the Christian religion, you could be praying now, and I wouldn't know it," said Wray.

Students sometimes participate in "See You At The Pole," in which they gather at the flag pole to pray, but, Wray said, that is usually held before school starts for the day.

In the practice of Judaism, she said, students are granted absences to observe their religious holidays.

The litmus test, Stewart said, is based around the word disruptive.

"We do retain the right for a teacher to say, on a given day, that it would be disruptive," he said, referring to examinations or other presentations. "The Muslim students, that's the give and take, they understand that and respect it."

Slubowski said she is not sure what is taking place at the school.

"There is a lot of hearsay back and forth," he said. "That's why I am throwing this out to you and saying maybe we should look into this."

If the program is causing a material disruption of classroom procedures, Slubowski said, it should be ended.

Stepping out of the classroom for approximately five to 10 minutes of prayer, according to Stewart, is less disruptive than having to excuse students for an entire day. He said it is not uncommon for students to go in and out of the classrooms to use the restroom, go to the office, see guidance counselors or attend other functions.

The Ohio Association of Secondary School Administrators issued a legal note stating that students have the right to pray individually or in groups or to discuss their religious views with their peers as long as they are not disruptive.

An example used in the legal note is that students may not decide to pray as the teacher is calling on them.

"It is a minimal number of students who ask to leave for religious prayer," Wray said.
Fifteen to 20 students, both male and female, ask to leave the classroom to pray during Ramadan, said Stewart.

Once the obligation of prayer is fulfilled, he said, the students return to the classroom.
While Davidson High School probably has students ask to be excused, Wray said Darby has more Somalian students, many of whom are Muslim.

"Dave has worked with it more," she said. "I have never heard of a request at the elementary school."

A room at the school is not specifically designated as a prayer room. She said it is generally a space which offers some privacy for a brief period of time, before returning to its designated use.


There are just a whole bunch of undercurrents in this article:
  • Thinking the best of him, we might believe Mr. Slubowski was be expressing concern that his child is being impacted by having the Muslim students leave the room. Except that Mr. Slubowski lives in the Davidson HS attendance zone now, and will remain there after the new attendance zones are put into effect. One cannot imagine he's trying to stand up for the Somali students and say their education is being negatively impacted by the customs of Islam. Thinking not so generously, it could be that Mr. Slubowski is simply objecting to the Somali kids getting what he perceives to be 'special treatment.' I can see a little of that. After decades of having their faith suppressed in school and government settings, it may be valid for Christians to ask if everyone is getting the same deal.
  • The school officials defend their actions (which I think are reasonable by the way) by saying that they have never been asked by Christians for the same kind of latitude. I think the situation may be that the ACLU has been so aggressive in their war against religion (in particular Christianity) in public schools that no one thinks there's any a latitude at all. Read this article to get a sense of what I mean: the ACLU thought that having a Christian group come on the school grounds on the weekend was a violation of Constitutional protections. Why would any Christian think it was okay to do anything in regard to their faith during actual school hours?
  • Ms. Wray's comment that "With the Christian religion, you could be praying right now, and I wouldn't know it" was perhaps not the brightest thing that could have been said. I'm sure her meaning was that it is impossible for schools to ban all practice of religious customs because one can pray without others knowing it. But it sounds more offensive to me, because it could be taken to mean that it is okay to ban visible Christian acts because we have a slealth mode available as well.
  • I'm surprised that it is generally acceptable for students to get up and leave class. I'm sure things have changed since 1970 when I was in high school, when it was very very rare for a student to be pulled from class, or to be excused in the middle of class. I don't know how a teacher can be expected to complete a lesson if kids are coming and going as they please. Is it truly as common as the school officials would have you believe, or was did they give that answer just to head off further controversy?
  • The reporter noted that this is an issue at Darby HS and not so much Davidson HS. This will only add fuel to the conversation that Davidson is better than Darby somehow. I tend to think the opposite by the way. The Darby kids are going to benefit from their exposure to and interaction with other cultures. And if we're not careful, the Davidson kids will develop a sense of superiority and of permission to discriminate which will not serve our country and our world well going forward.

The community of the Hilliard City School District now numbers over 75,000, with 15,000 kids attending school. Hilliard will continue to grow more diverse in terms of ethnicity and religion. We can either embrace that, or watch another cycle of 'white flight' in which the white folks who can afford it move out.

That's just what the developers would like to see happen by the way...


larrydlitton said...

Paul, I see that WV has lost its monopoly on cultural bias and overall ignorance. I look back in amazement at all the trash talk from EJHS and HHHS that was around; but most get along reasonably well with others. I just found your blog from your Christmas email which was, by the way, nothing short of spectacular. I have SO Many fond memories of you and Terri and can only pray that you two feel similarly. Would love to see you guys if you're ever in the area.

Paul said...

I do indeed. Man, I remember doing a science project with you in like 2nd grade (Mrs Buckner). It was a barometer made from an ink bottle, a straw, some clay and colored water. When it didn't change in 2 minutes, we declared it a failure.

With our folks all gone, we don't get down that way much. But the invitation is open both ways - be sure to look us up if you come this way.