Cheektowaga teacher sues over forced removal of religious items

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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.

Written By: Jay Tokasz
continue to source article at buffalonews.com

27 COMMENTS

  1. The school administration, in cooperation with government & parent teacher associations, formulate the policy of any school, not the individual teacher. I doubt if any court would uphold her law suit. There are provisions for human and civil rights in state laws but, should not entertain any notion of publicly disruptive religious rights, except the right to believe and privately practice any nonsense you wish. Silver was given every opportunity to conform to her employees legitimate demands and should be fired for her deliberate and unnecessary disruptive opinions on legal school policy.

  2. If she worked for IBM and expressed her personal doubts about the effectiveness of IBM products to a potential client, suggesting instead that they buy Macs, I doubt she would get away with a freedom of speech argument. You teach science, a subject which requires evidence. That evidence suggest that most of the religion you follow is utter horseshit. Your freedom of speech doesn’t allow you to stray from your duties as a science teacher, just as it wouldn’t allow you to stray from your duties as an IBM sales person.

  3. It’s okay to be religious, we are guaranteed that right. But to supplement any class with religious instruction, be it a science or any other class, is to disregard the religious freedom of the students. What would a Muslim child think if he or she were alienated in such a way?

    To profess the truth of any religion over another in such a setting is to mentally abuse the students. Even the Christian students should be outraged, what if she’s a Southern Baptist and the student is Roman Catholic? The parents of the R.C. child would be upset that a member of another denomination had intervened in their own religious beliefs. At least in this case the proper actions were taken to stop it, but what about the scores of teachers supplementing classes with their religion and are not flagged?

    Most of these “educators” would never leave the physical trace of their belief splattered on the walls, they just supplement the lesson with biblical references while espousing their beliefs by twisting them into the subject matter. Then we are faced with a dire situation, the word of the instructor against the student.

    I wish I could firmly suggest that this type of repugnance is locked out of the college classroom, but sadly, I cannot. I have personally had to drop classes because of this, after a bout with the dean, bowing out because I want my record unblemished.

    Just this last Thursday, my second day of HIST of Mesopotamia, we were asked, “What is History?” (which I thought was unneeded in 400 level history, I was wrong of course) The fifth answer to the question was by a young man a few tables behind me. “I guess when creation started, like the bible. Adam and Eve.” My professor, in a cowardly manner, said, “that’s one way of looking at it.”

    Then my esteemed coward explained to us that, history doesn’t deal in truth or facts, just the interpretation of evidence and after a mind numbingly ignorant epistemological explanation, insinuated that history is as exact as science, a purely scientific endeavor. My head just kept screaming, “THE CHEMICAL COMPOSITION OF WATER IS A FACT!!” I’m the first to retreat from absolutes, but damn she did a terrible job explaining her field. How is it possible for people with PhD’s to be so ignorant?

    This is the reason I feel it necessary to become a teacher.

  4. The thing is, this type of literature and posters and such probably fly under the radar in 99% of the cases. For this to be raised to this level, she had to be proselytizing and soliciting the students more extensively than the article hints. She has a right to be a Christian ON HER OWN TIME. She has a right to run the “bible” group after school. But, signing a contract with a public school mandates that you leave your religion at the door. When will this just be common sense instead of a point of litigation???

  5. In reply to #6 by crookedshoes:

    I have qualms with the after school bible instruction. School are for education, not indoctrination. Extra curricular activities should not involve religious instruction. If you want bible study, GO TO CHURCH. This type of after school bible study, when it involves the teacher, is an abhorrent practice that should be stopped. Students want to have a bible group, okay, but a teacher should not preach to them after the bell rings, it’s a national problem that is receiving attention thanks to our own Elizabeth Cromwell.

  6. From the headline I thought maybe she is Native American – they should be the one exception!!
    (seems that cheektowaga is Iroquois for ‘place of crabapple’).

    “…treated almost as if it’s some disease that has to be eradicated” – not really, but public schools should be a place for an even playing field, not “even praying field”.

    Props to the student who rightfully objected to said objects; maybe they can start this to counter the Bible Study Course.

  7. In reply to #5 by ThereIsGrandeur:

    It’s okay to be religious, we are guaranteed that right. But to supplement any class with religious instruction, be it a science or any other class, is to disregard the religious freedom of the students. What would a Muslim child think if he or she were alienated in such a way?

    To profess the truth of any religion over another in such a setting is to mentally abuse the students. Even the Christian students should be outraged, what if she’s a Southern Baptist and the student is Roman Catholic? The parents of the R.C. child would be upset that a member of another denomination had intervened in their own religious beliefs. At least in this case the proper actions were taken to stop it, but what about the scores of teachers supplementing classes with their religion and are not flagged?

    Most of these “educators” would never leave the physical trace of their belief splattered on the walls, they just supplement the lesson with biblical references while espousing their beliefs by twisting them into the subject matter. Then we are faced with a dire situation, the word of the instructor against the student.

    I wish I could firmly suggest that this type of repugnance is locked out of the college classroom, but sadly, I cannot. I have personally had to drop classes because of this, after a bout with the dean, bowing out because I want my record unblemished.

    Just this last Thursday, my second day of HIST of Mesopotamia, we were asked, “What is History?” (which I thought was unneeded in 400 level history, I was wrong of course) The fifth answer to the question was by a young man a few tables behind me. “I guess when creation started, like the bible. Adam and Eve.” My professor, in a cowardly manner, said, “that’s one way of looking at it.”

    Then my esteemed coward explained to us that, history doesn’t deal in truth or facts, just the interpretation of evidence and after a mind numbingly ignorant epistemological explanation, insinuated that history is as exact as science, a purely scientific endeavor. My head just kept screaming, “THE CHEMICAL COMPOSITION OF WATER IS A FACT!!” I’m the first to retreat from absolutes, but damn she did a terrible job explaining her field. How is it possible for people with PhD’s to be so ignorant?

    This is the reason I feel it necessary to become a teacher.

    History is what came before the present. We know very little about it, which is why we try to learn more. There is a fact for all of history, whether we know it or not. An Historian’s job is to do their best to extract the facts of history with the evidence they have. There is no real way to be sure if Historians have done a good job.

  8. What these types of people fail to comprehend is the implications of their actions.

    Can you imagine how happy they would be if a teacher in the next room had a picture of Muhammad and verses from the Koran stuck up on the wall?

  9. In reply to #13 by The Truth, the light:

    What these types of people fail to comprehend is the implications of their actions.

    Can you imagine how happy they would be if a teacher in the next room had a picture of Muhammad and verses from the Koran stuck up on the wall?

    Except she has the old “This is a Christian country” to fall back on.

  10. 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,

    There is no “freedom of speech” issue here.
    Teachers are not paid to promote personal opinions on non-educational subjects, in US State schools. Evangelicals, Ku Klux Klan members, drug pedallers, quacks etc., are not are not free to make up substitute lessons promoting their personal biases. The administration is quite within its rights to direct curriculum teaching within working hours.

    This looks like just another case of theist blinkered “interpretative” vision cherry picking legislation in a similar way to “Bible reading for morals”!

  11. In reply to #2 by Detective Lazy:

    It’s weird that decorating a room with religious paraphernalia can get you into more of a legal bind than molesting children, like these guys: http://richarddawkins.net/news_articles/2013/1/10/german-catholic-church-cancels-sex-abuse-scandal-inquiry

    yes, true. mind you, though, religious paraphernalia in a classroom is a form of indoctrination, too. what teacher posts anything in his classroom without a view to teaching his class something?

  12. It’s very obvious that her freedom of speech is in no way being hampered. She knew the rules when she started working there, she has broken them repeatedly. I am sure her employers could come up with a good case against her for deliberately failing in her duties by deliberately refusing to follow the guidelines she agreed to.

  13. It’s nothing to do with religious discrimination or anything else. The classroom is owned by her employers whoever they are NOT her. Only they have the right to say what is put on the walls they own. Simple. She’d be furious if they came into her home which she owned and put up posters wouldn’t she?

    Her employers pay her to behave in a certain way, which is religiuously neutral, for the period of time that they are paying her. Not the whole of her life. If she can’t do that then she can’t do what they pay her to do. Simple. If she can’t adhere to the rules of her employment they have every right not to want to continue paying her. You don’t get paid for doing what you want in life. And if what you’re doing offends your religious or other sensibilities find another job.

  14. In reply to #18 by Net:

    yes, true. mind you, though, religious paraphernalia in a classroom is a form of indoctrination, too. what teacher posts anything in his classroom without a view to teaching his class something?

    I’m not defending her or anything. I think if you want to put stuff up on a classroom, then it should at least be relevant to the subject. I just wanted to point out something that was odd to me.

  15. How can one be smart enough to get a teaching degree, and also believe that she has anything to sue about? I would be surprised if the court even agreed to hear the case. She will be unemployed quite soon.

  16. In reply to #6 by crookedshoes:

    The thing is, this type of literature and posters and such probably fly under the radar in 99% of the cases. For this to be raised to this level, she had to be proselytizing and soliciting the students more extensively than the article hints. She has a right to be a Christian ON HER OWN TIME. She has a right to run the “bible” group after school. But, signing a contract with a public school mandates that you leave your religion at the door. When will this just be common sense instead of a point of litigation???

    At the beginning of the year she started off by telling us about how she wears the Star of David because she is Jewish but she is actually Christian. She told us she was very proud of having more than one background. She would incorporate some Bible things into what we were learning, for example when we first started the bone unit she posed the question, “Who has more ribs, men or women?” and went on to say that people think we have different amounts because Eve was created from Adam’s rib or something along those lines (it was over a year ago).

    I’d really recommend reading the letters the FFRF sent to the school on my behalf, as they tell more of the story than just what the district sent to Ms. Silver. What you don’t hear about is on the last day of school, she had a mini-breakdown in our class and yelled at all of us. She compared me (“the person who reported her”, she didn’t know who it was) to someone who cheats on a final exam (apparently our class had an instance of someone cheating, we weren’t told much about it), and even went so far as to get out a dictionary, define “character” and “integrity” and said I have none. She’s also a blue blooder and an anti-vaxxer!

    It was a very interesting sight to see, if I do say so myself 8)

  17. kkoto,
    I am a school teacher and have colleagues who are religious. Not overly religious but regular mass attenders and such. I kind of smelled the deeper picture here because of my experience within the school system.
    I am positive that this woman cost you and your classmates in her efforts to “teach” whatever version of “Biology” she was peddling (odds are she directly misinformed you about many many things).

    The one item you mentioned (Adam and Eve and the rib)… A quick wikipedia session will set it straight. But, her behavior and clear “holier than thou” attitude must have been a son of a bitch to stomach every day for a year.

    Bravo to you and whomever supported you.

    In reply to #24 by kkoto:

    In reply to #6 by crookedshoes:

    The thing is, this type of literature and posters and such probably fly under the radar in 99% of the cases. For this to be raised to this level, she had to be proselytizing and soliciting the students more extensively than the article hints. She has a right to be a Christian ON HER OWN TIME. She has a right to run the “bible” group after school. But, signing a contract with a public school mandates that you leave your religion at the door. When will this just be common sense instead of a point of litigation???

    At the beginning of the year she started off by telling us about how she wears the Star of David because she is Jewish but she is actually Christian. She told us she was very proud of having more than one background. She would incorporate some Bible things into what we were learning, for example when we first started the bone unit she posed the question, “Who has more ribs, men or women?” and went on to say that people think we have different amounts because Eve was created from Adam’s rib or something along those lines (it was over a year ago).

    I’d really recommend reading the letters the FFRF sent to the school on my behalf, as they tell more of the story than just what the district sent to Ms. Silver. What you don’t hear about is on the last day of school, she had a mini-breakdown in our class and yelled at all of us. She compared me (“the person who reported her”, she didn’t know who it was) to someone who cheats on a final exam (apparently our class had an instance of someone cheating, we weren’t told much about it), and even went so far as to get out a dictionary, define “character” and “integrity” and said I have none. She’s also a blue blooder and an anti-vaxxer!

    It was a very interesting sight to see, if I do say so myself 8)

  18. Is she giving us any detail to why she as a biology and anatomy teacher needs all of the superstitious bullshit around her or is she too busy playing the martyr card to argue her feeble case.

  19. In reply to #24 by kkoto:

    She would incorporate some Bible things into what we were learning, for example when we first started the bone unit she posed the question, “Who has more ribs, men or women?” and went on to say that people think we have different amounts because Eve was created from Adam’s rib or something along those lines (it was over a year ago).

    Anyone teaching Adam’s rib in a biology or anatomy class as science, is grossly incompetent as a teacher. They clearly have no scientific research skills to pass on to anyone!

    I’d really recommend reading the letters the FFRF sent to the school on my behalf, as they tell more of the story than just what the district sent to Ms. Silver. What you don’t hear about is on the last day of school, she had a mini-breakdown in our class and yelled at all of us. She compared me (“the person who reported her”, she didn’t know who it was) to someone who cheats on a final exam (apparently our class had an instance of someone cheating, we weren’t told much about it), and even went so far as to get out a dictionary, define “character” and “integrity” and said I have none. She’s also a blue blooder and an anti-vaxxer!

    And having a go at students for reporting misconduct is VERY unprofessional! It should be dealt with as a separate disciplinary offence.

    Still we have heard fundamentalist religinut perceptions of “character” and “integrity”, before. – Lying for Jebus is their highest “moral” aspiration”!

  20. Alan4,
    You wanna hear real overbearing “lying for Jebus” google the name of the high school and scroll down to find the actual article and read the 500+ comments (or until you’ve thrown up). Really really sad that people are broken to this degree.

    BTW the same people who want to bastardize and shit all over the first amendment are the very ones who resist (at all costs) any change to the second amendment. Fascinating.

  21. In reply to #28 by crookedshoes:

    BTW the same people who want to bastardize and shit all over the first amendment are the very ones who resist (at all costs) any change to the second amendment. Fascinating.

    You are lucky to have a first amendment.

    As you may know from earlier posts, I spent quite a chunk of a teaching career working on a trouble-shooting and teaching support team – including working in some UK “faith” schools.
    That includes RCC ones which were full of crucifixes, statues and priests!

    I am quite familiar with their perceptions and what they will do when given a free reign! Indoctrination was rife with young children crossing themselves on a regular basis during prayers (sometimes conducted by priests), grace before meals etc.

    Many staff were very pleasant people – unless they moved on to religious subjects which clogged up their brains!

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