In a season typified by lawsuits against manger scenes, crosses and even the words “Merry Christmas,” a California case is taking the “separation of church and state” one step further – dealing with whether it’s unconstitutional to read the Declaration of Independence in public school.
Attorneys for the Alliance Defense Fund filed suit Monday against the Cupertino Union School District for prohibiting a teacher from providing supplemental handouts to students about American history because the historical documents contain some references to God and religion.
“Throwing aside all common sense, the district has chosen to censor men such as George Washington and documents like the Declaration of Independence,” said ADF Senior Counsel Gary McCaleb. “The district’s actions conflict with American beliefs and are completely unconstitutional.”
Patricia Vidmar, principal of the Stevens Creek School, reportedly ordered the teacher, Stephen Williams, to submit his lesson plans and supplemental handouts to her for advance approval. Aside from Williams, a Christian, no other teachers were subject to the advance-screening requirement, says the ADF.
Just what documents did Williams submit that were deemed unfit for the school’s students?
“Excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, the diaries of George Washington and John Adams, the writings of William Penn, and various state constitutions,” said the public-interest law firm representing Willliams.
“Less than 5 percent of all of Mr. Williams’ supplemental handouts distributed throughout the school year contain references to God and Christianity,” McCaleb said. “The district is simply attempting to cleanse all references to the Christian religion from our nation’s history, and they are singling out Mr. Williams for discriminatory treatment. Their actions are unacceptable under both California and federal law.”
California’s Education Code does allow “references to religion or references to or the use of religious literature … when such references or uses do not constitute instruction in religious principles … and when such references or uses are incidental to or illustrative of matters properly included in the course of study.”
The case, Stephen J. Williams v. Cupertino Union School District, et al., was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Oakland Division.
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