Christian attorney Mat Staver says a teacher in Tennessee violated a student’s constitutional rights earlier this week when she told the student she couldn’t use God as the subject of a class assignment.
The assignment was to write about someone she idolized – but 10-year-old Erin Shead says her teacher at Lucy Elementary School in Millington told her she couldn't write about God because it would be promoting religion. However, she said it was okay for Erin to write about her second choice: Michael Jackson.
News report from CBS affiliate WREG (Memphis)
Matt Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, says the teacher's actions are outrageous. “This student has a right to be able to write about the subject matter that is consistent with the assignment – and the assignment is to write about someone who you idolize,” he explains. “She idolizes Jesus Christ. She idolizes God the Creator of the universe.”
Staver says the federal government, several years ago, stated that students have a perfect right to express their religious views and beliefs.
“The United States Department of Education issued guidelines stating that public schools cannot prohibit students from engaging in religious expression – and if they do, they run the risk of losing their federal tax funding,” says the attorney. “So consequently what this school did is not only unconstitutional, but it violates the Department of Education’s own guidelines.”
Staver says what the teacher did, in this case, is to violate Erin's constitutional rights and display a lack of sensitivity to her personal emotions and beliefs.
According to news reports, Erin’s mother approached the principal on Wednesday about the teacher’s actions and asked for an explanation of school policy on the matter. While school officials initially offered no comment, CBS affiliate WREG in Memphis on Thursday posted this response from Shelby County Schools, the district where Lucy Elementary is located:
“Shelby County Schools respects the moral and religious beliefs of all students and families. While teachers and staff are not permitted to promote religion in the classroom, no laws or district policies allow teachers to limit students’ expression of religious beliefs in their personal classwork. This was a regrettable misunderstanding, and we as educators must learn from it. The principal and teacher have had a positive and productive conversation with the family, and we are pleased this matter is being addressed at the school level. The district will not be discussing this matter further in the media.”