Most Americans are familiar with the words of our founding fathers: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." These famous lines from the Declaration of Independence have long been a staple of American history classes. In fact, it is difficult to imagine a US history class being taught without the very documents that speak to the founding of the nation itself.
Yet, Steven Williams, a fifth-grade teacher from Cupertino, California, doesn't have to imagine it. He is experiencing it first hand.
Williams was recently ordered by San Francisco Bay Principal Patricia Vidmar to stop using the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, as well as any other primary historical texts that reference God.
This ban was initiated after Vidmar began receiving complaints from parents that Williams was using these documents not for their historical importance but to promote Christianity. In effect, Williams was accused of violating the school policy against advocating religion.
Williams has since filed a federal discrimination lawsuit claiming he was singled for being an Orthodox Christian. Williams argues that it is not his teaching methods but his deep religious faith that has raised red flags as he is the only teacher who must first submit an advance lesson plan to assure "appropriateness."
|Williams has since filed a federal discrimination lawsuit claiming he was singled for being an Orthodox Christian. Williams argues that it is not his teaching methods but his deep religious faith that has raised red flags as he is the only teacher who must first submit an advance lesson plan to assure "appropriateness."
Williams' lawyer Terry Thompson of the Alliance Defense Fund argues that: "There is nothing in the Establishment Clause (of the U.S. Constitution) that prohibits a teacher from showing students the Declaration of Independence."
The outcome of this case will hinge on the meaning of separation of church and state. Some firmly believe this one line expressly outlaws any type of religion within a state supported institution. Yet, others argue the statement simply keeps the central government from mandating a state religion.
The question becomes: can we equate the mention of God or Christianity within a class with the attempt to establish a common religion? According to Thompson:"It's a fact of American history that our founders were religious men, and to hide this fact from young fifth-graders in the name of political correctness is outrageous and shameful."
The determining factor would then seem to lie with intent. Is Williams' presentation of historical documents just history or a tool for religious persuasion?
Until the federal district court rules, a group of fifth graders in Cupertino, California will not be allowed to study it, the Constitution and other important national documents—at least, not in Mr. Williams' classroom.