Even praying after hours in a Florida classroom is not without hazards and controversy.
In Florida, Christian staff members of a public school did just that – prayed for students facing assessment tests. But leaving behind a residue of anointing oil on desks has caused an uproar.
“We thought it was vandalism. It was greasy. It was oily,” Chris Becker, a fourth-grade teacher who was resigning his position at Brooksville, Fla., Elementary to take another position, told the St. Petersburg Times.
“One of my colleagues said she was told by one of the secretaries it was prayer oil,” he told the newspaper. “I was very offended by that because I’m not a Christian.”
Officials with the school district say they are not investigating, because monitoring employees’ religious behavior isn’t their only responsibility.
“We also can’t discriminate against folks who want to practice or live within their religious practice, as long as it’s not disruptive,” said Hernando County school district attorney J. Paul Carland.
The principal, Mary LeDoux, reported it had been a difficult day with high levels of misbehavior, and the state’s standardized assessment test was scheduled to be administered the following week.
She told the newspaper she found nothing wrong with what she and “four or five” colleagues did: they went from classroom to classroom, praying and blessing the students’ desks with oil.
It happened late in the evening on Friday, Feb. 2, after the school was closed for the weekend.
“It was staff members on their own time who said, ‘Do you mind if we say some prayers for the kids on the Friday night before FCAT, so the kids would do well?'” LeDoux told the Times.
An American Civil Liberties Union spokeswoman said the actions crossed the line, because Christians were imposing their beliefs on others by leaving prayer oil on the desks for others to see.
“They did leave tangible evidence of their religious activity, and that was troubling to people,” said Rebecca Steele.
After discussions with school district officials, however, the principal is telling staff members to go ahead with their prayer meetings – just somewhere else.
“Now I tell my staff members, ‘You’re welcome to pray for my classes and my children, but you need to do it somewhere else. And that disappoints me, because it is after hours or before hours, and why should it be an issue?”
Times readers, while largely supportive of the principal, did have some objections:
“These kooky teachers would have had a fit if a rabbi came in, I am sure. Christians that force their views on others certainly stain the reputation od (sic) decent Christians,” wrote Rick.
“Give me a break…does it really matter which ‘God’ was prayed to? Fact is, the state has put sooo much emphasis on FCAT, the teachers are looking to prayer to help their students. I am Christian, but would NEVER be offended if a Rabbi prayed for me,” said dumbfounded.
“A little holy oil and prayer won’t hurt. Will there be complaints if they all pass? God works miracles,” said Grandma.
And School Employee said, “If you know anything about the FCAT, you will know that even prayers won’t help this totally illogical assessment – even for the faithful!”
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