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Austin Cline

Joelle Silver Sues School for Right to Promote Christianity

By January 22, 2013

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In Cheektowaga, New York, science teacher Joelle Silver is suing the school district because her supervisors had the gall to force her to stop promoting her religion in the context of her job. Apparently, she believes she has a constitutional right to push Christianity on other people's children and the that government schools have an obligation to assist her evangelical cause.

Conservative Christian Schools
Image © Austin Cline
Original Poster:
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How bad was it? Joelle Silver had numerous religious posters hanging in her classroom, most of which had Bible verses on them and one with a religious quote from Ronald Reagan. A drawing of the crucifixion of Jesus sat on her desk. A "prayer request box" sat in her classroom and it, too, was covered with Bible verses. She also invited a religious instructor to deliver a religious message during a class on Anatomy & Physiology.

It's a tragedy that she was allowed to get away with so much for so long and that a complaint had to be filed before anyone in the school district bothered to step in and uphold the law. Because Joelle Silver got away with imposing her religion on students for so long, though, she now seems to view such behavior as her right rather than as an injustice, thus her new lawsuit.

Here's what a letter from the school district lists as the violations in Joelle Silver's classroom, though only after receiving a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation:

I find that you have four commercially produced posters displayed in your classroom that feature the following Bible verses:
"WASH AWAY ALL MY INIQUITY AND CLEANSE ME FROM MY SIN .... WASII ME. AND I WILL BE WHITER THAN SNOW." PSALM 51 :2,7.

"THE LORD IS MY ROCK, AND MY FORTRESS, AND MY DELIVERER; MY GOD, MY STRENGTH, AND WHOM I WILL TRUST:' PSALM 18:2.

"THE HEAVENS DECLARE THE GLORY OF GOD; THE SKIES PROCLAIM THE WORK OF HIS HANDS." PSALM 19: 1

"LET THEM PRAISE THE NAME OF THE LORD, FOR HIS NAME ALONE IS EXALTED, HIS SPLENDOR IS ABOVE THE EARTH AND THE HEAVENS." PSALM 148:13
In addition, I find that you placed another poster on your classroom wall which appears to have been generated with the use of a computer and printer. The poster in question superimposes the following Bible verse over computer generated images of an American flag, school books, etc.:
"Be on guard. Stand true to what you believe. Be courageous. Be strong. And everything you do must be done in love." 1 Corinthians 16: 13-14.

I also find that you posted a sketch or drawing on your classroom wall, depicting three crosses on a hill. I conclude that this artwork is an obvious reference to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ at Calvary, in Jerusalem.
In addition, I find that you posted a quote from President Ronald Reagan on your classroom wall which states:
"Without God there is no virtue because there is no prompting of the conscience ... without God there is a coarsening of the society; without God democracy will not and cannot long endure ... lf ever we forget that we arc One Nation tinder (ind, then we will be a Nation gone under."
Furthermore, I find that since late September or early October, you have permitted the High School's student Bible Study Club, which you are the staff monitor of, to place and maintain a 'Prayer Request' box in your classroom. covered with bible verses and other religious messages, such as:
"Inspired Bible Club Prayer Requests."

"For where two or three have gathered in my name, I am in the midst" Matthew 18:20.

"And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith:' Matthew 21 :22.

"Whatever you ask in my name. this I will do, that the father may be glorified in the son. If you ask me anything in my name, I 'Will do it:' John 14:13-14.

"We have to pray with our eyes on God, not on the difficulties." Oswald Chambers.
In addition, I find that you have placed sticky notes on your desk that contain bible verses and other religious messages, such as:
"I will remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord'" Psalm 27: 13-14.

"For the company of the godless is burren, and fire consumes the tents of the corrupt. They conceive mischief and bring forth iniquity. and their mind prepares deception." Job 15:34-34.

"So let us seize and hold fast and retain without wavering the hope we cherish and confess, and our acknowledgement of it. for He who promised it IS reliable (sure) and faithful to His word ." Hebrews 10:23.

"Lord, when we are wrong make us willing to change. and when we are right make us easy to live with:' (quoting Scottish Clergyman, Peter Marshall).
I also find that you have placed and maintained a humorous poster in your classroom, depicting an antique telephone and including the following script:
"It's for you ... GOOD MORNING, THIS IS GOD ... I WILL BE HANDLING ALL YOUR PROBLEMS TODAY. I WILL NOT NEED YOUR HELP, SO HAVE A GOOD DAY."
Finally, in reference to Dr. Luther Robinson, M.D., who you procured as a guest speaker to address your Anatomy and Physiology class on May 31, 2012, I find that his power point presentation included two slides thai displayed Bible verses, in the context of his lecture on morphology, which focused on human embryonic and fetal development. including birth defects and genetic disorders. The slides included the following Bible verses:
"And the angel of the Lord appeared ... and said. " ... Now therefore beware. I pray thee, and drink not wine or strong drink." Judges 13:3.4
"Whom shall I send and who will go for Us?" "Then I said ... " Isaiah 6:7,8
I further find that you knew or should have known of the content of these slides in advance of Dr. Robinson's presentation to your class on May 31, 2012. since, in the "Guest Speaker Request Fonn" that you filled out (copy enclosed), you indicated that you had reviewed the materials in advance of the presentation.
After being notified of the investigation, Joelle Silver actually used class time to attack the student who originally reported all of the constitutional violations. According to Silver, it's the one who reports a teacher who is breaking the law, not the teacher, who lacks integrity and character. Silver also likened such a student to someone who cheats on a test... because expecting government employees to adhere to the law is totally unethical, right?
Silver, who lives in Amherst, is being represented by the American Freedom Law Center, a nonprofit law firm that focuses on religious liberty cases.

Attorney Robert J. Muise maintained that constitutional violations occurred when district officials forced Silver to remove the religious materials. "They essentially want her to cease being a Christian once she enters school district property," said Muise.

Source: Buffalo News

So, in order to "be a Christian," Joelle Silver has to promote her religion to other people's children? Silver has to abuse her position as a government employee by forcing her preferred religious messages and ideology on to a captive audience? I don't think so -- Christianity doesn't actually require this. And if it did, that would be too bad because the government doesn't have an obligation to accommodate such behavior.

Joelle Silver and her lawyer are complaining that other teachers are allowed to have personal messages in their classroom, which demonstrates that they either don't understand constitutional law or they are hoping the courts don't. There is no constitutional mandate that the government not endorse any ideas nor is there a mandate that government employees not endorse any ideas.

Government employees, be they teachers, police officers, or politicians, thus have wide latitude to endorse all sorts of personal beliefs (especially if they don't contradict any government polices and aren't illegal). This does not, however, apply to religion -- government employees have no latitude when it comes to endorsing personal religious beliefs.

Thus a teacher can hang a poster endorsing environmentalism, animal welfare, democracy, technological advancement, etc., but not a poster endorsing Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, etc. The difference is clear and unambiguous. Somehow, I have trouble believing that Joelle Silver and her lawyer are completely ignorant of it.

Comments
January 22, 2013 at 2:55 pm
(1) Dean J. Smith says:

Sometimes I’m glad the Christian fundamentalists have the Muslim fundamentalists to worry about, they usually backtrack pretty quickly once you get it through their heads that any special rights they get for Christians automatically apply to Muslims as well.

January 22, 2013 at 11:11 pm
(2) heicart says:

This is absolutely insane. Thank you for promoting these articles and keeping up this blog. You’re an amazing resource that I often recommend.

January 23, 2013 at 6:03 am
(3) Uninmportant says:

I never did or will understand how any of you beleive that she was forcing her beleives onto them. If she had put a candy bar on the desk would that have been forcing it upon them. Is she not allowed to force homework upon them. But if a poster with a bible verse is put up the govornment and you all seem to think that she set there and made them read it. You act as if she said if you don’t beleive this you fail. This would bring almost all of school into question saying we came from apes and making us memorize this is forcing a beleif upon us, but as it is something cooked up by scientists apparently its all fine and dandy.

January 23, 2013 at 6:06 am
(4) Austin Cline says:

I never did or will understand how any of you beleive that she was forcing her beleives onto them.

No one said anything about “force”.

If she had put a candy bar on the desk would that have been forcing it upon them.

Are you ignorant of the fact that government employees aren’t allowed to promote their personal religious beliefs to other people’s children in schools?

This would bring almost all of school into question saying we came from apes and making us memorize this is forcing a beleif upon us, but as it is something cooked up by scientists apparently its all fine and dandy.

Teachers are required to teach science; they are required not to promote their religion.

Apparently, you have no arguments against this, otherwise you would have offered one.

January 23, 2013 at 6:58 am
(5) James says:

“…saying we came from apes …”

I am SO sick of seeing this. Evolution does not claim, or even imply that the human race is descended (or ‘came from’ to use your terminology) from apes. It says humans and apes are descended from a common ancestor, which makes apes our cousins (but many, many times removed). Saying we are descended from apes is like saying you are descended from your cousin. That WOULD be a stupid claim, but no-one – except apparently the religious nut-jobs – is making that claim.

Can you see how a person shares a common ancestor with their cousin? And their second cousin? And their second cousin once-removed (assuming you understand what such relationships mean)? Can you see that you are related to your great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather but might also look nothing like he did, in the same way you look similar to – but not identical to – your father, and less similar to, but still simlar to, your grandfather, and less similar still to your great grandfather?

Right? That. Times a million. THAT is what gets you to the common ancestor of humans and apes. THAT is the claim of evolution. NO-ONE ‘came from’ apes. If you want to argue with evolution, fine. You’ll still be wrong, but at least you can start from a position that isn’t wholly imaginary.

January 25, 2013 at 5:23 pm
(6) Richard says:

In response to James:
Technically we are apes (family Hominidae, which includes many but not all apes [all apes = Hominoidea, which includes the gibbons]. Hominidae includes Homo sapiens the chimpanzees, the gorillas, and the orang-utan, and some extinct species). So our common ancestor was an ape. In that sense we came from = evolved from = are descended from an ape common ancestor. In the same way, we are descended from “monkeys,” an imprecise term; but the Old World (includes Hominidae) and New World monkeys had a common ancestor, which I’m sure most people would consider a monkey. All taxonomic groups have a common ancestor which is part of that group. But I don’t know why people worry about whether we are descended from apes or monkeys, since we are descended from many other organisms (bacteria, e. g.) and ultimately LUCA (last universal common ancestor, which is inferred; no one knows what it looks like).

January 25, 2013 at 11:31 pm
(7) Tom Edgar says:

When one considers the appalling lack of education displayed by the aptly named… “Unimportant”, I wonder if it is worth the time to write in simple (correct) English to refute the diatribe of nonsense written.

Any inference that you ascended from apes could be easily negated by reference to a qualified genealogist. (or maybe a Zoologist). For the rest of us we are quite happy knowing our genes are 98.4%. identical to those of the Apes. or that there is a 1.6% difference.

January 26, 2013 at 2:07 pm
(8) Ron says:

Most visitors to secular websites are aware that comments by “unimportant” are not unique. Sites such as this bring the Christian illiterates out of the woodwork. Their obvious lack of an education is mind boggling. As crude as “unimportant’s” comments are, however, at least he didn’t use abusive language.

For a glaring illustration of vile Christian abuse visit the Religous Tolerance website. The tolerance that this site displays toward all religions is naturally not shared by the Christian Right.

http://www.religioustolerance.org/comments1.htm

January 26, 2013 at 6:57 pm
(9) Deb says:

This teacher should be fired immediately. If she had to push her opinions on others, she should have been in a private school that matched what she already believed. But she had NO right to flood those children with what she thought. And I must disagree with what you said, Austin, about her religion requiring her to prosletyze. As a former believer, it most certainly DOES insist on that. We were taught to “make” disciples, and it was preached from the pulpit that all Christians are expected to witness to everyone we come in contact with, every moment of the day. As a true believer, she had no choice but to surround those poor kids with her faith. But it is reprehensible, because those kids had a right not to hear or see it! And what did the speaker’s verses have to do with physiology? NOTHING! She should have been criminally charged.

January 27, 2013 at 1:31 pm
(10) Cousin Ricky says:

Look up phylogenetics.

There is no monophyletic definition of “ape” that includes all extant apes but does not include humans.

There is no monophyletic definition of “monkey” that includes all extant monkeys but does not include humans.

(For that matter, there is no monophyletic definition of “fish” that includes all extant fish but does not include humans.)

To answer the question of whether or not we are apes, monkeys, or even fish, we need to decide whether or not to accept these terms as paraphyletic.

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