The Freedom From Religion Foundation is demanding that Tulsa Public Schools fire a teacher who chastised a student for non-Christian beliefs.
A concerned Tulsa Public Schools student has informed the state/church watchdog that Amy Cook, a biology teacher at Memorial High School, has been abusing her position and proselytizing her students. Cook reportedly set up a prayer room in the back of her classroom, which had a wall covered in prayers and bible verses where she encouraged her students to pray. A few weeks after our complainant placed a non-Christian prayer in the prayer room, Cook reportedly pulled the person out of class and told our complainant of the need to repent or the consequence would be to “burn in hell,” saying that she was required to intervene as a “good Christian.”
Cook describes on a website why her personal religious beliefs trump her secular duties as a teacher and how she views her position as a teacher to be political:
It wasn’t until I began to teach that I witnessed the spiritually damaging programs, liberal brainwashing, and political indoctrination being slipped into our schools. The means are clever and well-funded. As a Christian, I could not remain silent. Silence equals permission. When the LGBTQ national mandate was forced on my students under the guise of SeXXX Education in a 2 week class, I boycotted it and alerted all my students’ parents. It was successfully taken away from most of the students’ young eyes. I continue to model my Faith in God openly in my classroom.
On a blog that she runs, Cook encourages teachers to use their positions to proselytize, even if it means they will be fired:
I have a proposal. I propose that every Christian teacher decide right now, this very minute, to say no to all curriculum and policy in their school that is anti-Scriptural and dangerous for the souls of our youth. I think … no, I know this is not an impossible fight to win. We CAN have Christian values in our schools again. We CAN have God as the foundation for our students. …
If every Christian teacher decided today to say NO! No more! Satan is not welcome here!, imagine how loud our battle cry would be and how quickly the enemy would rush to the shadows to cower. He’s already so afraid of us. Why else would he choose the youngest and most vulnerable of us for his dastardly plans. He knows he is no match for an army of teachers covered by Jesus blood. …
If your job ends, it just means that God has other plans for you. Don’t worry, when you meet God in person some day, He won’t care if you managed to keep your salary and retirement fund. He will only care how you loved others.
It is a fundamental principle of Establishment Clause jurisprudence that a public school may not advance, prefer or promote religion, FFRF reminds the school district. Public schools must remain neutral with regard to religion.
“The Supreme Court has recognized that ‘families entrust public schools with the education of their children, but condition their trust on the understanding that the classroom will not purposely be used to advance religious views that may conflict with the private beliefs of the student and his or her family,’” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to the school system’s legal counsel. “Because the district and its administrators have turned a blind eye to the overt proselytization in Mrs. Cook’s classroom and its deleterious effects on our complainant, it has become complicit in an egregious constitutional violation and breach of trust.”
And, FFRF emphasizes, it is not a violation of the free speech rights of teachers when a school district regulates what they teach to students while acting in their official capacities. Teachers have access to a captive audience of students due to their position as public educators. Therefore, the district has a duty to regulate religious proselytizing during the school day. Courts have, in fact, upheld the termination of teachers who violate the principle of separation between church and state.
FFRS is asking that the district take immediate action to ensure that Cook no longer discusses her religious beliefs with students, encourages students to pray, shames students for their religious beliefs or in any way promotes or endorses religion to students. And the district must immediately remove the “prayer room” from Cook’s classroom. Given Cook’s egregious behavior, FFRF is advising that she be terminated, and administrators at the school be reprimanded and reminded of their duties under the law.
“This sort of abusive conduct cannot be tolerated in our public schools,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The freedom of conscience of students, especially those belonging to minority religions — and no religion at all — is in grave jeopardy under such teachers.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 36,000 members across the country, including in Oklahoma. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.