February 19 Statement of Andrew Stengel, Director of the Northeast Regional Office of People For the American Way Foundation
“PFAWF was founded 25 years ago in response to attacks on Americans’ religious freedom by the likes of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Clearly, there’s new evidence that religious liberty still needs defending. A public school teacher cannot tell students they’re going to hell if they don’t share his or her religious beliefs. Yet that’s exactly what happened in Kearny. Public schools are no place for pulpits.
“This is about the Constitution, but it is also about common sense and respect in a free and diverse country. As Americans, we are free to worship as our hearts lead. Religious discrimination and religious indoctrination are not proper roles for the government, and our public schools should reflect those principles. Americans don’t want public school teachers telling children what to believe and how to pray. We expect a history class to be about history and a science class to be about science.
“Just imagine if teachers were allowed to use class time to preach their faith rather than teach their subject. It would be wrong, whether they were pushing fundamentalism or atheism or anything else.
“Matthew put principle over popularity. He’s been condemned rather than commended for defending the Constitution. School officials who refused to stand by him are setting a terrible example for other students.
“This episode was a test for Kearny school officials, one which they did not pass. For not upholding religious freedom and tolerance, and for not supporting a student who took a principled stand, we give the school board an F.”
May 10 Update: Now the school district has settled with the family, agreeing to reaffirm religious liberty and chuch-state separation in the district. The school board is also commending Matthew for his “courage and integrity.” Also, in the New York Times >>