An Oklahoma school district superintendent instructed teachers not to promote religion in classrooms after correspondence with the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
A concerned family in the Wynnewood Public Schools District contacted FFRF with concerns about a sixth grade teacher displaying posters with bible quotes and promoting Christianity to students at Wynne Middle School. The social studies teacher attacked evolution and misinformed students that the U.S. Constitution, an entirely secular and godless document, is derived from the bible.
A parent had complained to the principal, who is married to the offending teacher. The principal removed the posters but insisted it was the teacher’s “First Amendment right” to talk about her personal religious views with students.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel contacted Superintendent Randy Cole in a Feb. 28 letter which cited numerous Supreme Court cases showing that public schools can’t promote religion. Seidel noted that “the First Amendment is not a license for uncontrolled expression at variance with established curricular content” and that courts have upheld the termination of teachers who violate the Establishment Clause.
On March 4, Seidel received an official email from Cole, who conceded the teacher should not have placed religious posters in her classroom. Cole said he told her to “stay strictly with the information presented in the book.” But he volunteered that student-led prayer is constitutional.
Although Cole said he has “a degree in science,” he argued against evolution. He also asked Seidel whether he’s a believer and sermonized, “What happens when you die, if you’re wrong? If I’m wrong, when I die I just die, but if you’re wrong, when you die —”
He also said “the further we separate God from our schools the nearer we bring violence and evil.”
Seidel responded, “Evolution is as much a fact as gravity,” and called it “disturbing” that a superintendent does not “believe in” evolution. He recommended Cole read books by Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne.
Seidel then addressed Cole’s condescending question: “Please understand that my personal beliefs have no bearing on the illegality of the Carters’ actions. But since you asked, I believe in the First Amendment. I believe in protecting minorities from the tyranny of the majority. I believe that religion is the single most divisive force on this planet, and that it has no place in our public schools. I believe that ideas should be subjected to reason, debate and inquiry, not blindly accepted.”
Seidel added, “I believe in love, in family and in making the most of this life because it’s the only one we have. In short, I am an atheist.”
Seidel called Cole’s assertion that secularism causes school shootings “appalling,” adding, “Murder rates are actually lower in more secular nations and higher in more religious nations where belief in God is deep and widespread. And within America, the states with the highest murder rates tend to be highly religious, such as Louisiana and Alabama, but the states with the lowest murder rates tend to be among the least religious in the country, such as Vermont and Oregon.”
In a March 6 email, Cole said he instructed district principals to hold meetings by the end of the week on the topic of not promoting religion in the classroom. He added, “You raise some good and interesting points, as I said, it would be foolish of me to argue with a lawyer.”
Seidel said Cole got one more thing wrong: “It’s not foolish to argue with a lawyer; it’s foolish to argue with an atheist.”