A first-grade teacher in Indiana is demanding that her students not speak about God, Jesus Christ, or the devil inside the classroom.
The students’ parents were recently issued a letter from the McCordsville Elementary School teacher, essentially informing them that God is not invited into her classroom and that they are only allowed to speak about God and Jesus under certain conditions – dictated by her.
“With McCordsville Elementary being a public school, we have many different religions and beliefs, and I do not want to upset a child/parent because of these words being used,” the unnamed teacher wrote in her letter to parents. "If you go to church or discuss these things at home, please have a talk with your child about there being an appropriate time and place of talking about it."
Igniting the fire …
But the exact opposite of what the teacher intended resulted from the letter.
“The move backfired,” the IndyStar announced. “Instead of preventing problems arising from religious talk in the classroom, the note kicked up a debate on students’ free speech rights.”
Mt. Vernon Schools Superintendent Shane Robbins commented on the tensions that her letter triggered..
“A handful of students were having a pretty heated debate about the existence of God and the devil,” explained Mt. Vernon Schools Superintendent Shane Robbins. “These are first-graders.”
The letter was considered by the teacher to be necessary because religion is not a topic worthy of discussion in her classroom.
“The teacher said she had warned the students once about getting into religious debates, but felt she needed to take further action,” The Christian Post reported.
Beyond the school gates, parents were noticeably upset by the teacher’s directive.
In an attempt to put out the fire, Robbins announced to "aggravated," which led Robbins to clarify that students are indeed free to bring up their personal beliefs in class – as long as they are not disruptive.
"To simply summarize, [district] employees can neither advance nor inhibit religious views," Robbins explained, Robins explained, according to the New York Post.
He then stressed that students’ First Amendment right are not checked at the classroom door.
"Trying to limit a student's view on religion is a violation of a student's First Amendment rights,” Robbins added. “However, if the discussion becomes an academic disruption, then as a district, we can intervene to maintain the integrity of the educational process while at the same time being sure to not violate a student's constitutional rights."
The head of the Indiana public school district then attempted to excuse his teacher’s behavior.
“Robins noted that the teacher felt the students were disrupting class with their debate, which is what prompted her to send home the letter,” CP’s Stoyan Zaimov reported. “The superintendent added that the teacher is only in her second year, and is still learning about district and board policies.”
The superintendent then rationalized that his new teacher was still learning about proper conduct in her classroom.
"From a school vantage point, it was a learning process for a young teacher," Robbins added.
Students need to know their rights …
Instead of relying on teachers and school officials to dictate what can and cannot be discussed at school, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF outlined what the constitutional rights guaranteed to all students – both inside and outside the classroom.
"Students have the right to share their beliefs, pray, evangelize, read Scripture, and invite students to participate in such activities during free time so long as they do not (1) substantially interfere with the operation of the school or (2) infringe on the rights of other students," ADF maintained.
From apparel to discussing one’s beliefs, it is argued that student in public schools have do not have their constitutional rights reduced once they walk onto campus.
"The right to expression also extends to the clothes students wear,” the Christian legal group pointed out. “Students may thus wear religious clothing to the extent that other like articles of dress are permitted. A school may not prohibit student expression solely because others might find it 'offensive.'"