FFRF defends besieged Texas teacher

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a state/church watchdog, has sided with a middle school teacher in Katy, Texas, who has come under fire in the school district, community and media for a critical-thinking class exercise that appears to have offended many for its questioning of whether God is real.

As part of the West Memorial Junior High classroom exercise, the teacher had students respond to simple phrases, asking whether they were factual claims, opinions or commonplace assertions. One of the phrases was “There is a God.”

A 12-year-old student was apparently so distraught that she went to the school board meeting and told the members that she had an “assignment that questions my faith and told me God was not real.”

“It appears this young student expected the teacher to profess that God is a fact,” FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker wrote a letter to Katy ISD Superintendent Alton Frailey. “Yet famous passages from the bible as well as many denominational doctrines would agree with this teacher’s categorization that God is not taken on fact or evidence. ‘Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’ — Hebrews 11:1”

After discussing the situation with the teacher and 11 students who were in the class, the district confirmed that “the teacher did not ask students at any point to deny God. According to the teacher and students interviewed, she emphasized to the students that there are different cultures, religions and views.”

However, on Thursday, Superintendent Frailey released a statement that said, in part, “No student should ever be forced or threatened with a failing grade for not denouncing his or her faith. I will not tolerate that at all.”

Based on the report from the district FAQ page online, no mention of a failing grade was given to any to the students (because the exercise was not to be graded) and no one was forced to denounce their faith.

Gaylor and Barker defended the teacher and the classroom exercise in the letter to Frailey.
“It is a pity that confused thinking and thin skins by some believing students and their parents can rule the day at your junior high school,” they write. “The exaggerated fallout from this exercise clearly demonstrates the great need for more, not less, instruction on critical thinking skills. It should not be verboten or controversial to ask students to assess whether a claim is factual. It is this kind of ‘head in the sand’ attitude that accounts for the deplorable state of science understanding in our nation—including the fact that about half of all adults reject evolution, which is a fact.”

Frailey also stepped close to the church/state line when he proclaimed in his statement that he is “a life-long Christian.”

“It is unfortunate … that you as superintendent felt incumbent to disclose you are a ‘life-long Christian,’ which should be entirely irrelevant in overseeing the district’s secular public schools,” the FFRF letter states. “This veers perilously close to conceding that to have standing in your community, at least on this issue, you have to be a professed Christian.”

FFRF has more than 23,000 members nationwide and 790 members in Texas.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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