Opt-out required for school prayers? Teacher fired for 2nd time

It is against both Tennessee and U.S. law to lead public school students in prayer. But some people just won’t stop breaking the law and trying to find ways around it. Should students have to opt-out in order to be spared from teacher-led prayers?

According to WLBT news, “A Franklin County High School teacher was fired on Tuesday for leading her students in prayer in the classroom,” At first this sounds like good news, because the school board did not renew her contract because of her illegally leading prayer in school. But the news is not entirely good.

Apparently, teacher Alice Hawley had been fired “over 15 years ago”…for doing the same thing: leading prayers in class. “A few years later” she was asked back. So at least 15 years ago, she was let go because she was leading students in prayer. Then she was asked back, let’s say 10 years ago as a conservative estimate since we’re not given exact figures. That means she very well may have been leading class prayers for the past 10 years until a student or parent complained, or someone outside the school found out.

The principal was allegedly aware of what the teacher was doing, at least according to one student. “And sometimes our principle [sic: principal] comes and he’ll bow his head and he’ll pray with us.” If the principal was coming in and praying, he obviously was aware of the practice at some point before the teacher was let go; and since he actively participated in the prayers he may very well also be breaking the law, depending on the circumstances.

But in addition to subjecting some students who may be of different religious faiths or no faith at all to the teacher’s prayers, it’s the teacher’s defense that particularly irks me. One of her students said her policy was that if a student objected to the teacher praying:

“She said you can leave a letter an anonymous email, or just tell her raise your hand in class,”

So apparently, if the student is presenting the situation accurately, this teacher thinks that it’s okay if she imposes religious prayer upon her students, who are minors, so long as she tells them they can raise their hand to complain or leave an anonymous letter if they object. What she apparently doesn’t get is that she is in a position of authority, and that as a public school teacher, she is also acting as a representative of the government. She is not allowed to advocate religion. For her to say that the default is prayer and that you have to complain to stop it, when most or all of your other classmates support the prayer, is clearly a violation and an undue burden to put on a minor.

The video shows several students with shirts or writing on their arms saying “I broke the rule, I prayed in school” in support of their now-fired teacher and her prayers. What happens if a kid does not wear such a shirt, or does not actively support their teacher? Will they be singled out overtly or subtly and treated differently?

Teachers and other people hired by the state or federal government should not be forcing religion on anyone, especially not children. Children should not be forced to protest in order for the law to be upheld; the adults should be doing this on their own. I am glad the teacher got fired, but appalled that she was rehired in the first place, that this was the second time she had to be fired for the same thing, that the principal appears to have known about such prayers and even participated in them, and that her leaving has now further brought students into the fray. Hopefully whoever is hired to replace Hawley will start off their tenure by setting a good example for their students: respect for both students’ rights and the law by not leading classes in prayer.

Praying for Toyota?

Image source: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/sci/eng/eed/research/peater/links/toyota.jpg

Individuals are free to pray as they want. But should elected officials be telling people they should pray for the success of a company?

According to Reuters, here are the comments of Kentucky state representative Charlie Hoffman.

“They are our great corporate citizen. We’ve got to pray for Toyota.”

It bears mentioning that, according to the same article by Reuters, “Toyota has invested over $5 billion in Kentucky. Some 6,600 people work full time at its Georgetown factory, the firm’s largest outside Japan and its first in the United States.” I’m sure economic concerns have nothing to do with the representative’s desire to pray for Toyota. After all, as Georgetown’s mayor, Karen Tingle-Sames, says, plant workers

“are not just employees of Toyota — they are our friends and family members. The people we go to church with and the people we shop at Wal-Mart with”

So as long as you go to church and Wal-Mart with someone, they are deserving of God’s grace, it would seem. If they didn’t go to church, I supposed the workers could just go to Hell (figuratively, of course)?

It is this sort of intrusion of religion into the state that seems the most common: elected representatives acting as if everyone can and should believe in God. Whether it’s telling people to pray, or emblazing “In God We Trust” in the U.S. Capitol entrance, it is illegal religious intrusion into our secular government.

Dan Barker calls for Memphis Council to steer clear of prayers, keep church and state separate

Dan BarkerPhoto source : The Daily Helmsman

Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), spoke out last night in Memphis against the religious convocations given at Memphis City Council meetings, arguing instead for neutrality in government when it comes to religion.

Barker opened on a light note, excusing himself for starting a little late, saying he was looking for someone who could begin the meeting in prayer (he asked if there were any councilmembers who could assist). The rest of his talk, followed by over an hour of Q & A with both supporters and detractors, combined background on state-and-church issues across the country, personal anecdotes, and light-hearted humor.

Barker specifically addressed the Memphis situation several times, explaining that it was wrong on constitutional grounds for the city to include religious prayers in its official procedings since this constitutes government speech in support of religion, something not allowed under the First Amendment. Barker noted that the very phrase of the First Amendment is one restricting the rights of the government in terms of religion: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

In its complaint letter from September, FFRF noted that this year, nearly all of the convocations were done “in Jesus’ name” or with clear references to the Bible. According to Barker, convocations like those given at Memphis council meetings “crossed the line” by subjecting citizens to prayers given by religions, more often than not “in Jesus’ name”. He also noted that the City Council website also contains a biblical reference, further indication that the Council is playing favorites in religion.

He addressed critics who claimed FFRF was trying to advance atheism in government, stating that FFRF is only seeking neutrality. He said as a former minister, he understood where some religious people were coming from, incorrectly seeing as an “attack” what is really constutionally-mandated neutrality in government.Memphis is not being called on to begin meetings with “God is dead”, for example, but simply that neither religion nor irreligion be sanctioned by government officials in the public square.

Barker made a distinction between the public square (where government and citizens meet) and the public sphere (where citizens express themselves). Government officials, just as anyone else, have the right to pray in church, talk about God, or exchange ideas on whatever they want to in the public sphere; however, once they are acting officially in the public square in their jobs as representatives of the people, government officials must remain neutral. Barker pointed out that City Council members are free to pray in their offices before the official session begins, but not during the session itself as an official act of government.

In response to a questioner who said that the founding fathers were religious and did not think government and church should be separate, Barker said that in addition to God not being in the constitution, the founders did not have official prayers at the Constitutional Convention. Ben Franklin made a motion at the convention to have prayers at the meetings, but his motion was not even seconded, much less adopted. Barker said this showed that while some founders in their personal lives were Deists or Christians, most of them wanted to keep church out of the government and let each person decide for themselves according to their own conscience what to believe.

Another questioner wanted to know what FFRF would consider to be an acceptable solution to the current situation, where the City Council holds prayers. Barker said preferably on constitutional grounds, there should be no prayers during government meetings, but he offered at least two possibilities. The Council could have a moment of silence if it were clear that the moment was not stemming from a ploy to get around state-church separation, which Darker said would prove difficult in this case. Another possibility was establishing a system where anyone from any religion or no religion could speak to the assembly on any topic; drawing names from a hat to determine who would speak, for example, instead of the current situation of chaplains being invited to pray.

Much more was discussed during the talk and the Q & A. A summary of additional topics discussed, as well as commentary on the event, will be posted in the next few days, so please check back. In the meantime, here is an article that is appearing in today’s Commercial Appeal (Memphis’ leading daily newspaper) about the meeting, as well as some previous posts as background (1, 2, 3).

I attended a talk about baby dinosaurs on the ark (& more fun facts!)

Harrub talk adsSource of images: http://www.colliervillechurchofchrist.com/Special_Events.html

This weekend, my wife and I made a trip to see a seminar entitled “Truth About Human Origins” given at the Church of Christ in Collierville, TN. Given the titles of some of the talks ( “Atheism’s Attack on America”, “ Scientific Accuracy of the Bible “, etc.) we pretty much knew what we were getting into. My wife is still a believer (but not a fundamentalist), and I’d never been to a talk like this before, so we both thought it’d be interesting to see what the speaker would say.

The speaker, Dr. Brad Harrub , has an “earned” PhD in Anatomy and Neurobiology, so I figured he would try to harmonize the Bible with carefully selected scientific facts, or try to disprove scientific claims that don’t agree with the Bible. I was right on both fronts. We were only able to attend two back-to-back sessions: “Is Genesis a Myth?” and “The Dinosaur Dilemma”, but I think it was enough to get a good idea of Dr. Harrub’s arguments, which even my wife as a believer strongly objected to!

After a prayer (during which I bowed my head, kept my eyes open and kept quiet), the talks began: back-to-back talks with a 10-minute break in-between, followed by 10-15 minutes of Q & A. I didn’t take notes, but here were a few highlights of the talks. Please note that I am summarizing the information he presented, not advocating it!

Is Genesis a Myth?

* There are three options: the universe always existed, the universe created itself, or something else created the universe.
* We know the universe is expanding, so this proves that it didn’t always exist.
* The Big Bang is unsatisfactory: where did the matter for it come from? Something had to create that matter.
* God is eternal, outside of the universe: he’s the only one who could create without having to be created.
* Creation happened in 6 literal days (comparison with other verses to prove “day” is not a metaphor for millions of years, etc.).
* Evolutionists want us to believe humans started out stupid — but Genesis says Adam was smart enough for God to ask him to name all the animals
* There are no gaps in the lineage in the Bible, it says who was born when up until Jesus, so we can calculate the age of the Earth.
* Archeological evidence supports historical claims in Genesis and the Bible.

The Dinosaur Dilemma

* Dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time, and were created on the same day (5th day).
* The Bible mentions dinosaurs (but not by name since the word “dinosaur” wasn’t invented until the 1800s) after the flood.
* Dinosaur-like creatures mentioned after the Flood (in Job), so they must have been on Noah’s Ark.
* The way dinosaurs could have fit on Noah’s Ark was as unhatched eggs or small children. No, I am not kidding. (I would say this is the part where he seemed the proudest of what he was saying, like he was single-handedly defeating the infeasibility of the Ark and any objections skeptics would raise.)
* There’s proof for a worldwide flood since every continent has fossils from so-called “localized” floods, and fossils can be found at the top of the highest mountains in the world.
* Carbon-dating of fossils is not proven and is unreliable. Scientists have dated dinosaur bones to as recent as 9000 years ago (much closer to truth than the millions of years normally claimed by evolutionists
* Dinosaur artwork, in the form of carvings and figurines, can allegedly be found in a number of ancient artifacts from around the world, showing that dinosaurs and humans coexisted.
* A mammal fossil was found eaten inside the stomach of a dinosaur fossil, which should be chronologically impossible if science is right about evolution.
* What was thought to be a prehistoric ancestor to fish was found to still exist today, proving scientists can’t date bones correctly.
* Important to tell kids early the truth about dinosaurs, creation, and the Bible, before books, TV, and school tell them lies.

I believe those were all the main points he made. Dr. Harrub had a very convincing, authoritative way of speaking and presenting his information. Although I found some of his ideas laughably funny (baby dinosaurs on the Ark!), I can see why people would want him to speak, and why people would be duped into his pseudo-science if they have been taught to believe that they should have faith in what the Bible says. The Bible says it, this guy with a PhD says it, so it must be true!

For most people, some of the claims should be obviously false at face value. Others would take a little more to debunk, and I don’t know if I’ll have time to research every one. Here are two that I did look up since I hadn’t heard about them before: the dinosaur figurines and Ica stones depicting humans and dinosaurs.

Dinosaur Figurines in Mexico: http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CH/CH710_2.html
Ica stones in South America: http://skepticwiki.org/index.php/Ica_stones

To my dismay, there were only two people who were clearly atheists or freethinkers who were asking questions in the Q and A afterwards. They were allowed to ask several questions each, which I thought was very fair of the speaker and congregation to allow. It’s interesting that at least some creationists, as one questioner pointed out, have changed their ways in the past few decades from denying dinosaurs existed, to saying of course they existed, it’s in the Bible! Scientists just have the dates wrong about when dinosaurs lived, according to Dr. Harrub. So now that we know baby dinosaurs were actually on the Ark, it’s okay for kids to be exposed to the “sugar candy” (his expression) of dinosaurs, which evolutionists try to give kids to lure into believing in evolution.

There were 3 or 4 other people who spoke, all supporting the Bible and the points Dr. Harrub had made. I wondered how many people were in the audience who were atheists or skeptics/skeptical but didn’t want to speak up. I know my wife afterwards said that she wanted to ask questions and make a point, but that she was too nervous to do so and didn’t know if he questions would sound stupid. Believe me, they were intelligent questions, and even if she tried they couldn’t have been any stupider than the nearly 2 hours of crap we had just heard!

I have to say I am frustrated that this man apparently goes around the country presenting himself as a scientist and appearing to present “proof” of his claims, when he is clearly trying to promote the Bible more than he is trying to promote science. Worst of all, Dr. Harrub said a number of times how important it was for parents to teach their children about the Bible and to tell them not to believe what science says about evolution. There were a number of small kids (pre-teens) in the audience, so I felt very sad that they were being exposed to / brainwashed by this information. He also told people to be ready to answer questions from teenagers when they come back from science classes they may have to take at college which might confuse them or raise doubts about their beliefs.

The message was pretty clear: scientists and atheists are lying to you and your children. Don’t listen to what they say; just believe what the Bible says. I’ll talk more about my wife and my reactions to the talk in a future post.

EDIT: Here is a link to audio from a previous seminar given by Dr. Harrub, so you can get an idea of what his talks are like.