Saturday, December 05, 2009

Teachers Testify, Complaining About Consent Decree Banning Religion In Schools

In a 9-page consent decree issued last May (see prior posting), a Florida federal district court enjoined Santa Rosa County, Florida school officials from promoting or participating in any way in prayer with students at school events or during instructional time. However then a teacher's group, the Christian Educators Association, attempted to intervene to challenge the consent decree. (See prior posting). The court scheduled a hearing on whether the organization could show it has standing to seek a modification of the consent decree on the ground that it impacts the free speech or free exercise rights of teachers or employees. That hearing took place this week, with rather intriguing testimony from some of the district teachers.

Thursday's Pensacola News Journal reports on the testimony of third-grade teacher, Vicki Kirsch, who said: "My Christian beliefs are under attack and ... I wasn't able to do the things that I could do before the consent decree." She recounted that she is afraid to say, "God bless you," to a fellow teacher, and in not sure if she can let students talk about their baptisms in speeches to classes. She also complained she had to remove a cross from a personal area of her class room. A release from Liberty Counsel describes the testimony of two other witnesses:
Michelle Winkler broke down on the witness stand when she described how a coworker sought comfort from her after losing her two-year-old child. The two hid behind a closet door to pray, for fear they would be seen and held in contempt of the court order. Denise Gibson, an elementary teacher for 20 years, testified the order forces her to tell parents she cannot respond if they talk about church or their faith. She may not even respond to an email from a parent if it contains a Scripture verse or "God bless you." Instead, the District requires her to open a separate email to respond rather than hit "reply," in order to eliminate any trace of religious language.
On Friday, federal district judge Casey Rodgers ordered counsel for both sides to submit their closing arguments in writing. (Pensacola News Journal).