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Teacher sues over forced removal of religious items

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 Cheektowaga teacher sues over forced removal of religious items

Joelle Silver has taught in the Cheektowaga Central School District for seven years.

Joelle Silver has taught in the Cheektowaga Central School District for seven years.

Published: 01/10/2013, 12:31 PM

Updated: 01/10/2013, 12:31 PM

Cheektowaga teacher sues over forced removal of religious items

Religious freedoms cited in Cheektowaga

BY: Jay Tokasz / News Staff Reporter

  •  
  • Science teacher Joelle Silver accuses the Cheektowaga Central School District of being hostile to her because she is  Christian.

A high school science teacher in Cheektowaga is accusing school officials of censoring her speech by ordering the removal of religious items from her classroom.

Joelle Silver, 29, complained in federal court papers that Cheektowaga Central School District officials threatened to fire her if she didn't take down posters with religious messages, notes with Bible quotes and a "prayer request" box for the school's Bible Study Club.

Silver, who teaches biology and anatomy and has been with the district for seven years, got rid of the material.

She then charged district officials with violating her First Amendment rights and acting hostile because she is Christian, in a complaint filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York,

But a national organization that complained to the district twice about Silver last June said the classroom postings were unconstitutional and needed to be removed.

"Public employees, including teachers, have to act neutrally with regard to religion. They cannot push any religion," said Rebecca Markert, staff attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit membership organization based in Madison, Wis., that promotes separation of faith and government.

Silver, who lives in Amherst, is being represented by the American Freedom Law Center, a nonprofit law firm that focuses on religious liberty cases.

Attorney Robert J. Muise maintained that constitutional violations occurred when district officials forced Silver to remove the religious materials. "They essentially want her to cease being a Christian once she enters school district property," said Muise.

Superintendent Dennis Kane said the district was caught in the middle of a dispute between "two big special-interest groups" and was likely to be sued regardless of what it did or didn't do.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation in September sued a Pittsburgh-area school district for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument at a junior high school.

"There's rulings that favor both perspectives on this," said Kane. "More than anything else on this, each side wants an example."

After consulting with a district lawyer and an attorney for the district's insurance carrier, district officials issued an eight-page "counseling letter" to Silver, said Kane, who is named personally in the suit along with School Board President Brian J. Gould.

The lawsuit mentions the letter several times, but because of the litigation and privacy restrictions in personnel matters, Kane said he was not able to comment on its contents.

The case dates back to last June, when a student alerted the Freedom From Religion Foundation to a poster with a biblical verse in Silver's class and a drawing of three crosses on a wall near her desk.

The student also reported to the organization that a guest speaker discussing genetic defects in Silver's anatomy class had used Bible passages in his presentation and that Silver herself had referred to Adam and Eve in a discussion about the human rib cage.

The student felt uncomfortable and alienated by the religious references and materials, said Markert, who wrote a letter to Kane on June 7 asking the district to investigate and direct Silver to take down the postings.

A week later, on June 14, Markert wrote another letter informing Kane of additional religious postings in Silver's classroom, including four posters with Bible quotes from the Book of Psalms.

The student also said that Silver told students in the anatomy class that whoever had reported her to the Freedom From Religion Foundation lacked integrity and character and was akin to someone who had cheated on the final exam, Markert wrote in her follow-up letter.

"This student should be lauded for standing up for constitutional rights, not made to feel like an outsider and defamed by being compared to someone who cheats on exams," Markert wrote, encouraging Kane to further investigate and discipline Silver.

Muise said that Silver wasn't pushing her faith on students.

The original poster she was told to take down contained a quote from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians: "Be on guard. Stand true to what you believe. Be courageous. Be strong. And everything you do must be done in love."

The quote was superimposed over a picture of an American flag and school books.

"Is that proselytizing?" asked Muise.

The district demanded that Silver take down a posted quote from Ronald Reagan, in which the former president declares "without God democracy will not and cannot endure" and "If ever we forget that we are One nation Under God, then we will be a Nation gone under."

The district ordered Silver to remove even the small personal sticky notes with Bible quotes she kept on her desk and to keep any Bible verses in a private folder.

Muise called it "one of the most egregious examples of religious hostility I have witnessed in a public school." Any religious reference in schools is "treated almost as if it's some disease that has to be eradicated," he added.

The lawsuit states that Silver's Christian faith defines her as a person, and passages from the Bible guide her actions, including those as a public school teacher.

District policy allows teachers to display personal messages and other items that reflect their individual personalities, opinions and values, as well as messages that are not part of the curriculum but relate to political and social concerns, the lawsuit also states.

"As a result of the defendants' draconian restrictions, plaintiff must keep her faith hidden at all times," the lawsuit said.

But Markert said the district did the right thing.

"There's a lot of case law that supports the district's decision," she said. "I don't think the school district is forcing her not to be a Christian."

by on Jan. 11, 2013 at 11:36 AM
Replies (131-136):
Bookwormy
by Platinum Member on Jan. 14, 2013 at 9:05 PM
1 mom liked this
The schools can teach a world religions class. The kids can talk about any religion they want. The kids can pray. What are you talking about?


Quoting somuchlove4U:

I'm sorry you feel that I have lied. I didn't say that Paganism is taught in schools, I said people are free to talk about it. Lying is not the name of God. I do my best not to lie. You will see what you want to see and so will I. Let's just gracefully agree to disagree. 

Quoting LoveMyBoyK:

If He is with you, then He Is Wherever You are So You LIED when You Claimed He Is Not In schools, Schools Where His Children Hold him In their hearts. And You Lied again Claiming MY religion Is allowed To Be taught In Public schools. Name One school That teaches tenants of a single Pagan religion. Apparently lying in The Name Of Your God Is making A come back.





Quoting somuchlove4U:

No honey. God is with us no matter what. The sad thing is you can talk about your goddess in school, I can't talk about God in school.





Quoting LoveMyBoyK:

How sad that you think your god So Weak and powerless that brick And mortar walls remove him from people's hearts. The Goddess is With me wherever I go, no posters or flyers or prostelytizing necessary.









Quoting somuchlove4U:

About God being taken out of public places.









Quoting romalove:


Quoting somuchlove4U:

It is a public school. At one time it was okay





to talk about God in public school. Times have changed and people are fighting back.












Quoting romalove:


Quoting somuchlove4U:

No. I was just making a point. She might have felt that taking the stuff down was going against God. So she fought back.













Quoting romalove:


Quoting somuchlove4U:

We Christians obey the law unless the government wants us to do something against God's law.















Quoting PamR:

Christians have to obey the law like everyone else does.  The school district did the right thing.

It is God's law that you surround yourself with crosses, Bible verses on posters, and religious paraphernalia in a public school classroom?

There were crosses on the blackboard according to the story.

Do you see the slippery slope of her "feeling" about what God wants?  Anyone could do anything then under that guise.  

This is a public school. 

I don't know what you mean.

What people are fighting back, and against what?







Posted on the NEW CafeMom Mobile
valhallaarwen
by Bronze Member on Jan. 15, 2013 at 1:08 PM

I would like to mention something I noticed yesterday.  I went to the bank and the teller I went to has Psalm 23 taped to her little cubicle teller  wall.  I noticed something else tape there as well. But I didn't have a problem with that because it is her space and I was there for a moment to make a deposit.  However, if she was trying to push literature on me about her church, her beliefs, I would have a problem. 

tweety101149
by Platinum Member on Jan. 21, 2013 at 5:16 PM

Ah, Bookwormy you are so much like my daughter in some ways.  She too raised  Jewish,  decided  Wicca was for her..., but raising her sons Jewish and allowing the boys to visit  father in - law's Christian (Baptist) Church when they visit upper state NY .  When they are older, if they ask she will guide them pagan or wicca. 

Quoting Bookwormy:

How about the 3 crosses on a wall in her classroom? Is that appropriate? Would you be comfortable with pentacles on a wall in a public school classroom?

As a non-Christian who will be sending my DD to public school for 1st grade next year, I would be very uncomfortble with crosses on the wall of her classroom. I'd also be uncomfortable with Jewish or Pagan symbols, & we are raising her Jewish & Pagan! The Establishment Clause is in the US Constitution to protect all of us from government sponsored religion.


Quoting grannywilson:

With the same government documents in place years ago, kids read the Bible and prayed in school.  When I went to grammer we pledged to "One nation under God".  There didn't seem to be a problem.  Our supreme court has then ten commandments posted.  It depends on the person you talk to as to what the deal is.  This teacher had a poster that had an American flag and some school books on it and it read "Be organized. Stand true to what you believe.  Be courageous.  Be strong and everything you do must be done on love."  Also there was a quote by Ronald Reagan.  A prayer box was in the room but no one said you had to put something in it.  She was the leader of the afterschool group.  That was okayed by the school.  This doesn't seem so horrible but then I came from a different era.



 

butterfly on headlynda  




Bookwormy
by Platinum Member on Jan. 21, 2013 at 6:57 PM
I'm still strongly Jewish, though very drawn to Shechinah, Yah, basically the Divine Feminine. My partner's Pagan. Our DD's mainly being raised Jewish (Reconstructionist) to be honest, & my partner does mainly Jewish stuff as well at this point. But we do a smattering of Reclaiming Pagan stuff here & there. Not Wiccan. And though Grandpa is Christian, we are very clear that we are not, LOL. We can't wait to move somewhere with a thriving Recon Jewish community with a real religious school for DD! So, I'm not quite as "lalala" as I seem online, LOL.


Quoting tweety101149:

Ah, Bookwormy you are so much like my daughter in some ways.  She too raised  Jewish,  decided  Wicca was for her..., but raising her sons Jewish and allowing the boys to visit  father in - law's Christian (Baptist) Church when they visit upper state NY .  When they are older, if they ask she will guide them pagan or wicca. 


Quoting Bookwormy:

How about the 3 crosses on a wall in her classroom? Is that appropriate? Would you be comfortable with pentacles on a wall in a public school classroom?

As a non-Christian who will be sending my DD to public school for 1st grade next year, I would be very uncomfortble with crosses on the wall of her classroom. I'd also be uncomfortable with Jewish or Pagan symbols, & we are raising her Jewish & Pagan! The Establishment Clause is in the US Constitution to protect all of us from government sponsored religion.



Quoting grannywilson:


With the same government documents in place years ago, kids read the Bible and prayed in school.  When I went to grammer we pledged to "One nation under God".  There didn't seem to be a problem.  Our supreme court has then ten commandments posted.  It depends on the person you talk to as to what the deal is.  This teacher had a poster that had an American flag and some school books on it and it read "Be organized. Stand true to what you believe.  Be courageous.  Be strong and everything you do must be done on love."  Also there was a quote by Ronald Reagan.  A prayer box was in the room but no one said you had to put something in it.  She was the leader of the afterschool group.  That was okayed by the school.  This doesn't seem so horrible but then I came from a different era.





 


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tweety101149
by Platinum Member on Jan. 22, 2013 at 4:59 PM

 My cousin and her whole family is Reconstructionist, they live in the northshore of chicago, they have a great recon. community.   

Sheninah is a very intersting pov from the kebbalah.  very femminine (divine perhaps) indeed. Actually, when you turn around, as long as one is not violent, or forcing one to believe your way what difference does it make how one prays to their higher power.  Or for that matter not pray at all?

Quoting Bookwormy:

I'm still strongly Jewish, though very drawn to Shechinah, Yah, basically the Divine Feminine. My partner's Pagan. Our DD's mainly being raised Jewish (Reconstructionist) to be honest, & my partner does mainly Jewish stuff as well at this point. But we do a smattering of Reclaiming Pagan stuff here & there. Not Wiccan. And though Grandpa is Christian, we are very clear that we are not, LOL. We can't wait to move somewhere with a thriving Recon Jewish community with a real religious school for DD! So, I'm not quite as "lalala" as I seem online, LOL.


Quoting tweety101149:

Ah, Bookwormy you are so much like my daughter in some ways.  She too raised  Jewish,  decided  Wicca was for her..., but raising her sons Jewish and allowing the boys to visit  father in - law's Christian (Baptist) Church when they visit upper state NY .  When they are older, if they ask she will guide them pagan or wicca. 


Quoting Bookwormy:

How about the 3 crosses on a wall in her classroom? Is that appropriate? Would you be comfortable with pentacles on a wall in a public school classroom?

As a non-Christian who will be sending my DD to public school for 1st grade next year, I would be very uncomfortble with crosses on the wall of her classroom. I'd also be uncomfortable with Jewish or Pagan symbols, & we are raising her Jewish & Pagan! The Establishment Clause is in the US Constitution to protect all of us from government sponsored religion.



Quoting grannywilson:


With the same government documents in place years ago, kids read the Bible and prayed in school.  When I went to grammer we pledged to "One nation under God".  There didn't seem to be a problem.  Our supreme court has then ten commandments posted.  It depends on the person you talk to as to what the deal is.  This teacher had a poster that had an American flag and some school books on it and it read "Be organized. Stand true to what you believe.  Be courageous.  Be strong and everything you do must be done on love."  Also there was a quote by Ronald Reagan.  A prayer box was in the room but no one said you had to put something in it.  She was the leader of the afterschool group.  That was okayed by the school.  This doesn't seem so horrible but then I came from a different era.



 


 



 

butterfly on headlynda  




Bookwormy
by Platinum Member on Jan. 22, 2013 at 5:49 PM
1 mom liked this
Its all good! It will be most difficult for me if DD converts to Christianity, but that's my own chasarey. She's very spritual & always has been in a way I don't remember being as a child. She has a beautiful ruach & amazing kavanah. So natural, so open.


Quoting tweety101149:

 My cousin and her whole family is Reconstructionist, they live in the northshore of chicago, they have a great recon. community.   


Sheninah is a very intersting pov from the kebbalah.  very femminine (divine perhaps) indeed. Actually, when you turn around, as long as one is not violent, or forcing one to believe your way what difference does it make how one prays to their higher power.  Or for that matter not pray at all?


Quoting Bookwormy:

I'm still strongly Jewish, though very drawn to Shechinah, Yah, basically the Divine Feminine. My partner's Pagan. Our DD's mainly being raised Jewish (Reconstructionist) to be honest, & my partner does mainly Jewish stuff as well at this point. But we do a smattering of Reclaiming Pagan stuff here & there. Not Wiccan. And though Grandpa is Christian, we are very clear that we are not, LOL. We can't wait to move somewhere with a thriving Recon Jewish community with a real religious school for DD! So, I'm not quite as "lalala" as I seem online, LOL.



Quoting tweety101149:


Ah, Bookwormy you are so much like my daughter in some ways.  She too raised  Jewish,  decided  Wicca was for her..., but raising her sons Jewish and allowing the boys to visit  father in - law's Christian (Baptist) Church when they visit upper state NY .  When they are older, if they ask she will guide them pagan or wicca. 



Quoting Bookwormy:

How about the 3 crosses on a wall in her classroom? Is that appropriate? Would you be comfortable with pentacles on a wall in a public school classroom?

As a non-Christian who will be sending my DD to public school for 1st grade next year, I would be very uncomfortble with crosses on the wall of her classroom. I'd also be uncomfortable with Jewish or Pagan symbols, & we are raising her Jewish & Pagan! The Establishment Clause is in the US Constitution to protect all of us from government sponsored religion.




Quoting grannywilson:



With the same government documents in place years ago, kids read the Bible and prayed in school.  When I went to grammer we pledged to "One nation under God".  There didn't seem to be a problem.  Our supreme court has then ten commandments posted.  It depends on the person you talk to as to what the deal is.  This teacher had a poster that had an American flag and some school books on it and it read "Be organized. Stand true to what you believe.  Be courageous.  Be strong and everything you do must be done on love."  Also there was a quote by Ronald Reagan.  A prayer box was in the room but no one said you had to put something in it.  She was the leader of the afterschool group.  That was okayed by the school.  This doesn't seem so horrible but then I came from a different era.




 



 





 


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