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Religious questions on a school assignment

My daughter (8th grade) recently brought home an assignment from her Language Arts class that had personal religious questions on it:

What is your religion and what are it's beliefs? What does practicing, or OBSERVING, your religion mean to you? Do you REALLY practice what your religion teaches, or do you just claim to be a certain religion on Sundays and then forget about it the rest of the week How could you imporve on practicing your religion throughout the school day? What do you think of people who claim to be a religion and don't practice the teachings of that religion?

My daughter does not have a religion, which was essentially all she could answer to most of these. She and the other student without a religion received the two lowest grades in the class.

I talked to the Vice Principal about this on the phone and she said she was going to look into it, but I've heard nothing back in days. I feel like they are just going to blow it off and do nothing, especially with the school year about to end. I really feel like I need to do something about this and take a stand. I also feel like this teacher needs to face some kind of consequences for such unprofessional behavior.

What should I do?

This is in a public school? If so, I believe this is VERY wrong, especially giving a low grade for a lack of religion!

Your feelings about needing to do something and taking a stand are VERY justified. This teacher needs to be stopped. This makes me angry to even hear about this.

Qoute: "What do you think of people who claim to be a religion and don't practice the teachings of that religion?"

Encouraging your daughter to judge others about religion? In school? No. Fail the teacher. What's next? "Why are you a godless heathen?"

I'm sorry, but in answer to your final question of what you should do, I can't answer specifically from a legal standpoint. Not sure if these general questions fall under federal mandates. But the first thing I would do is drive down and demand to talk to the principle and ask why your daughter is being discriminated against. The low grade is clearly unfair.

Also: watch this thread because there are a lot of guys way smarter (and more knowledgable) than me. Good luck.

Hi Leslie,

You might want to consider contacting Americans United for Separation of Church and State. What you described looks (to my non-attorney eyes) like a violation of your daughter's 1st Amendment rights, but AU would be able to address that better.

The assignment itself if bad enough, but I'd also be interested to know if this was a formal part of the curriculum of if it was just something the teacher inserted. If it's a formal part of the curriculum, then that's an even bigger problem in your school district. Good luck, and please let us know how this works out.

Thanks, Jen. I think I may do that. I do feel like my daughter's rights have been violated.

This assignment was supposed to be related to the study of the book "Night" by Elie Weisel. All of the Language Arts student in her "team" (eighth grade is divided into three teams) are studying this book. However, my understanding is that only this teacher did this as an assignment. I am all for having the students study the Holocaust, but that can certainly be accomplished without such an invasion of their personal privacy.

I have finally received a response from the Vice Principal in my voicemail. She says they are addressing the issue with the teacher, as well as other issues in her classroom and that she cannot share the details because it is a "personnel" issue. Somehow, I am just not feeling satisfied by this and feel I have a right to know what the consequences of this are.

The teacher has since (perhaps without knowing that it was we who complained) sent an email to my husband complaining about our daughter's behavior in clas and her low marks in the tests and assignments related to this unit of study. I am worried that she is going to try to make her fail the class on purpose. She is also saying that one assignemnt was never turned in, and my daughter is certain that it was.

In answer to the previous poster: yes, this is a public school! I'm not sure if I should mention the school or district name in this public forum.

You most certainly should post the names. Truth is always a defence against accusations of slander. Anything you can prove is actually true you can post in any public forum. Also making the names and circumstances public will help to warn others and bring more public attention to bear on the problem.

Leslie T said, "This assignment was supposed to be related to the study of the book "Night" by Elie Weisel. All of the Language Arts student in her "team" (eighth grade is divided into three teams) are studying this book. However, my understanding is that only this teacher did this as an assignment. I am all for having the students study the Holocaust, but that can certainly be accomplished without such an invasion of their personal privacy."

I don't think the choice of books was all that keen either - There is a book "The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak it is a much better choice because it was written for kids and adults. It's about the impact Nazi Germany had on everyone in Germany.

Leslie T said, "I have finally received a response from the Vice Principal in my voicemail. She says they are addressing the issue with the teacher, as well as other issues in her classroom and that she cannot share the details because it is a "personnel" issue. Somehow, I am just not feeling satisfied by this and feel I have a right to know what the consequences of this are."

I agree because you are not interested in any "personnel" issue or other issues in her classroom. You are interested in an answer to a specific question you ask about a homework assignment.

Leslie T said, "The teacher has since (perhaps without knowing that it was we who complained) sent an email to my husband complaining about our daughter's behavior in clas and her low marks in the tests and assignments related to this unit of study. I am worried that she is going to try to make her fail the class on purpose. She is also saying that one assignemnt was never turned in, and my daughter is certain that it was. In answer to the previous poster: yes, this is a public school! I'm not sure if I should mention the school or district name in this public forum."

Even if the student didn't turn in an assignment or misbehaved in class those are separate issues. Don't mix the issues (other issues) should be dealt with separately. This issue is only about the assignment questions.

I think that it is discrimination to make discussing your belief homework, especially if someone has no religious belief. Nobody has the right to ask about your belief status. The US is a secular nation, period, and should remain that way.

Everyone should read this article:

Democracy For America.Com - Blog for America - Texas Teacher suspended for being "Liberal" and an "atheist "Written by: Brad Watkins on Feb 2, 2009 www.democracyforamerica.com/blog_posts/27752-texas-teacher-suspended-for-being-liberal-and-an-atheist. Also read all comments at the bottom - they come from students in the school. The teacher makes it clear that the school board is made up of members of one church who seem to run the school.

Local school boards are the least vetted and undemocratic elected officials in the U.S. The Old Dover PA board and others that try to introduce I.D into schools illustrate this.

Read this article: 2/10/2009 ACLU Sues Irasburg School For Teaching Religion - Robin Smith - Staff Writer (This is an excerpt - put in search and read the whole article.) The American Civil Liberties Union has helped two families sue the Irasburg School District because of a teacher they say proselytized in the classroom and retaliated against their Children in school.

The families accuse Irasburg Village School teacher of giving students extra points last school year if they read Christian-themed books he bought with school money.

Put this in search - Ask Sybil Liberty about Your Right to Religious Freedom it tells you everything that is unconstitutional concerning religion in the public school. The First Amendment guarantees the separation of church and state. There is also a [contact us] at the bottom.

I hope you have documented everything and kept the homework paper. Document conversations with anyone (and the fact that there was no response.) Document any reply or lack there of.

You should write Democracy For America.Com - ACLU - Separation of Church and State and People for the American Way. Ask what they think about this and if it is a violation of the First Amendment or student rights. They would most likely respond and give you some suggestion on how to proceed. Look at the ACLU page on student rights.

Write to all of them: See what they say - if they can help - and I think that you should write to President Barack Obama because they say you should always go to the very top with your complaint.

I would have answered...

1. What is your religion and what are it's beliefs?

My beliefs are based on evidence, so therefore I reject religious dogma.

2. What does practicing, or OBSERVING, your religion mean to you?

By practicing daily observation of the natural world I am less susceptible to extraordinary claims that lack extraordinary evidence.

3. Do you REALLY practice what your religion teaches, or do you just claim to be a certain religion on Sundays and then forget about it the rest of the week?

Yes, I really don't practice any religion 7 days a week, and I sleep in on Sunday. I do give & receive presents on Christmas, of coarse, but humans were celebrating Winter Solstice thousands of years before the Catholic "Universal" Church superimposed their god's birthday on top of it.

4. How could you improve on practicing your religion throughout the school day?

I could question the propositions of my fellow students on unsupported & unintelligent claims that belief in a supernatural is rational or evidenced.

5. What do you think of people who claim to be a religion and don't practice the teachings of that religion?

Normal.

A+ to Green Magi :)

Green Magi:

Someone who tells people that they are Christian if asked probably wouldn't answer these questions honestly if asked. Why tell them anything when they don't have the right to ask? Why do you think that the student should tell the teacher that they don't have a belief?

Answering these silly questions (not pertinent to the study of the holocaust) isn't the problem, it isn't HOW would you have answered these easily answered questions? The problem is SHOULD a student be required to answer these kinds of questions about their belief as homework?

Should anyone be expected to answer them? I don't think the student had a problem with answering the questions; I think the problem is that the student objected to being asked these questions for homework.

I think that it's not all that different from the Nazi's expecting people to wear the big yellow Stars of David on their sleeves so that everyone would know that they were Jews.

1.What is your religion and what are it's beliefs? 2.What does practicing, or OBSERVING, your religion mean to you? 3.Do you REALLY practice what your religion teaches, or do you just claim to be a certain religion on Sundays and then forget about it the rest of the week. 4.How could you imporve on practicing your religion throughout the school day? 5.What do you think of people who claim to be a religion and don't practice the teachings of that religion?

By answering these questions in any way the person is ignoring the fact that the questions are unacceptable. The most important thing a non-believer or anyone else can do is to stand up to people if they abuse their positions of authority.

Maybe it's better to tell your daughter that she should always answer what is expected from her in order to avoid unnecessary conflicts when it comes to such questions. Your daughter is not in a clear position of power in this situation. The teacher is in a position of power (!) and maybe (s)he even has the school behind her. So why play the "rebell" if it is not absolutely necessary?

If you really want to "punish" the school for this behaviour you should wait for a suitable moment there your daughter doesn't depend on this teacher so you can strike! Behave like The Count of Monte Cristo would do. ;-)

Great advice! What an example to set for your kid - when things get uncomfortable, go back in the closet and hide. /sarcasm

Seriously, who said standing up for your beliefs would always be easy, cheap, or comfortable? Why would you think standing up for your rights is "playing the rebel?" Why would you think it necessary to be "in a clear position of power" to exercise your civil rights? This is not an unnecessary conflict, and teaching a kid to lie in order to get along with bullies is reprehensible.

Quite frankly, you sound like a coward.

And who said that protecting something i believe in should always be hard, expensive and painful? If you can see a moment when it is easy to overwhelm your opponent, it is only wise to do so. Only a coward would strike at a more powerful enemy directly in an open field. It is better to create an ambush and wait and be patient.

@noconflict - "Only a coward would strike at a more powerful enemy directly in an open field."

What??? You need to get a dictionary and look up the definition of "coward."

From: noconflict: "Maybe it's better to tell your daughter that she should always answer what is expected from her in order to avoid unnecessary conflicts when it comes to such questions.

Answer: They came for the Jews and I said nothing, because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me. Have you ever heard that before nonconflict?

It starts out like this and leads to bigger and bigger things. The people in Germany didn't see what was coming either.

nonconflict said, "Your daughter is not in a clear position of power in this situation. The teacher is in a position of power (!) and maybe (s)he even has the school behind her.

Answer: Keep on your knees or we could all trounce on you! Is that what you mean? What if they trounce on you anyway? When should she start standing up to these morons?

nonconflict said, "So why play the "rebell" if it is not absolutely necessary? If you really want to "punish" the school for this behaviour you should wait for a suitable moment there your daughter doesn't depend on this teacher so you can strike! Behave like The Count of Monte Cristo would do. ;-)"

Answer: She doesn't want to punish the school for the teachers BEHAVIOR. I think she made it very clear that she wanted an answer to her questions about the inappropriateness of the homework assignment. Nobody should be forced to answer questions that should not have been asked to begin with. The fact that the student is not the one in power is exactly what makes this an issue! If people in power violate your Rights it is an issue. If they are not in power it's not an issue because they don't have the power to make you do anything you don't want to do.

I may be wrong but this line was said by Martin Niemoeller wasn't it? However the situation at that time was completely different. People were treated with death because of their ethnicity. You can't compare such an extreme situation with "a daughter receiving a bad treatment from a teacher because of some differences in their viewpoints". During Martin Niemöller's time it would have been necessary to speak out, he stated his error himself, you quoted it.

But this discussion is a little pointless now since his daughter has already spoken out, so now that the "cat is out of the basket", he may as well fight for his daughter until "the last drop of blood" and I have no doubt that's exactly what he did. (I would have done it.) I just think that one should avoid conflicts when it is possible. I remember a line from Babylon 5: "Never start a conflict but always finish it."

Nonconflict -"People were treated with death because of their ethnicity. You can't compare such an extreme situation with "a daughter receiving a bad treatment from a teacher because of some differences in their viewpoints".

The Nazis didn't start out killing people for their ethnicity-that came later. They started out with smaller acts of degradation and harassment. You need to fight back before things gets that bad, not after.

To: noconflict - I hope that you don't mind me pointing out that most of the things that you are implying is not what people are saying. Furthermore, you don't seem to have a problem with having conflicts with atheists - who objected to questioning a student about their beliefs for homework - as much as you do with having a conflict with the nincompoops in charge.

nonconflict said, "I may be wrong but this line was said by Martin Niemoeller wasn't it? However the situation at that time was completely different. People were treated with death because of their ethnicity."

Answer: Martin Niemoller "The Failure to Speak Up Against The Nazis" this remark was made in reply to a student's question, "how could it happen?"

"First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me."

Before WWII Henry Ford wrote an anti-Semitic newspaper The Daily Mail. This was before there were Unions to protect the workers in America. Immigrants brought with them the idea of organizing labor and Jews were well known Union organizer and pro-labor. Ford stopped the attacks when the Jewish community organized a boycotted of Ford cars in 1920.

In his book "Human Smoke" (The Beginnings of World War II, The End of Civilization) that Nicholson Baker wrote from archives of quotes, writings, and old newspapers about the time period from 1914 to 1941. Starting before the Nazis started their campaign against the Jews. America, England and many countries were very anti-Semitic. In 1920 Churchill said "I am strongly in favor of using poisonous gas against uncivilized tribes," and in the same year Churchill denounces the 'sinister confederacy' of international Jews. America and many other countries didn't allow the Jewish refugees into the country, and British troops in Palestine fired upon Jews attempting to come ashore at Tel Aviv in 1939. Also, President Roosevelt was pursuing aggressive policies towards Japan, while purporting to seek accommodation. Everyone tolerated bigotry and nobody spoke out - this is what brought this disaster on the world.

People in Germany were inspired to hate the Jews because of their religion, and the idea was spread that Jews were an inferior race. When people say I hate Muslims it's not different from saying I hate the Jews. And it is not different from people in America and other countries being inspired to hate atheists because they have no belief, and people are told that they are inferior and inherently evil.

nonconflict said, "You can't compare such an extreme situation with "a daughter receiving a bad treatment from a teacher because of some differences in their viewpoints". During Martin Niemöller's time it would have been necessary to speak out, he stated his error himself, you quoted it."

It all started with the violation of Civil Rights. The campaign against the Jews started in 1933 with an increase of hostilities against the Jews in Germany influencing a policy of businesses to not serve the Jewish population. Germans were also encouraged not to use Jewish doctors and lawyers. Jewish civil servants, teachers and those employed by the mass media were fired. The Nuremberg Laws on Citizenship and Race 1935 was passed so that the Jews could no longer be citizens of Germany.

President George H. W. Bush suggested that atheists were neither Citizens nor Patriots.

The actual reason for inspiring hatred toward anyone is never advertised by the Establishment - they are never the party that wanted to go to War - or get rid of the Union organizers - or get rid of people that speak out! Every poll taken in American says that atheists are the MOST hated group - just like the Jews were in Germany and much of the world.

nonconflict said, "But this discussion is a little pointless now since his daughter has already spoken out, so now that the "cat is out of the basket", he may as well fight for his daughter until "the last drop of blood" and I have no doubt that's exactly what he did. (I would have done it.) I just think that one should avoid conflicts when it is possible. I remember a line from Babylon 5: "Never start a conflict but always finish it."

Answer: She didn't start the conflict and it's clear that just not answering the questions is not the same as being allowed to speak out. From what she wrote in her last post I got the impression that her questions about the homework assignment had not been answered. It's probably hard to finish something when you can't get any answers.

"Maybe it's better to tell your daughter that she should always answer what is expected from her in order to avoid unnecessary conflicts when it comes to such questions."

That is probably the most cowardly statement and worse piece of advice I've ever seen. You should be ashamed of yourself and I sincerely hope you don't have children.

To teach your children to sit silently when they see a crime being committed is an even greater crime. No person ever should keep quiet when they see a crime being committed, ESPECIALLY when that crime is being committed by a person or group in power.

FlyinFree, just calm down a little bit, okay? I'm not categorically against any form of 'speaking out'. I just want to point out that one should always consider if it is worth it in the given situation. In some situations one should speak out, however in other situations one should either leave the field or wait for a suitable chance to strike back. Go ahead, call the Count of Monte Criso a coward if you disagree with me.

I repeat ... I'm not categorically against any form of 'speaking out'. Okay? However it should be done with minimal damage to oneself. His daughter could have waited until she got into an other class or he could have transferred her to another class and then he could have started his little war on this teacher. There are many ways to fight a war. You never heard of guerrilla warfare? That's how the Vietcong "cowards" (- to quote you -) defeated the seemingly much more advanced US Army. That's how the Red Army "cowards" destroyed the Nazis. If patience for you is an act of cowardice than I would rather stay a coward but with my enemies eventually helplessly writhing under my feet rather than dying like a "brave man" in an open field and let my enemies have the last laugh.

noconflict said, "FlyinFree, just calm down a little bit, okay? I'm not categorically against any form of 'speaking out'. I just want to point out that one should always consider if it is worth it in the given situation. In some situations one should speak out, however in other situations one should either leave the field or wait for a suitable chance to strike back. Go ahead, call the Count of Monte Criso a coward if you disagree with me."

Answer: The Count of Monte Cristo is fiction - This is a real American citizen non-believer (minority) with certain Rights. So why is it rational to wait in this situation? She wouldn't be better off if she waited because they could say; "if you were really disturbed why did you wait so long to complain"? There is no good reason not to try to stop this - instead of letting it grow in the dark like a mushroom.

noconflict said, I repeat ... I'm not categorically against any form of 'speaking out'. Okay? However it should be done with minimal damage to oneself. His daughter could have waited until she got into an other class or he could have transferred her to another class and then he could have started his little war on this teacher.

Answer: What other form of speaking out is more appropriate than when you feel that there is an injustice? From what you have written, I have the impression that you think that this is a trivial problem - or you have no empathy for the problem.

noconflict said, I repeat ... I'm not categorically against any form of 'speaking out'. Okay? However it should be done with minimal damage to oneself. His daughter could have waited until she got into an other class or he could have transferred her to another class and then he could have started his little war on this teacher.

Answer: Sometimes you just have to let the chips fall where they may.

noconflict said, "There are many ways to fight a war. You never heard of guerrilla warfare? That's how the Vietcong "cowards" (- to quote you -) defeated the seemingly much more advanced US Army. That's how the Red Army "cowards" destroyed the Nazis. If patience for you is an act of cowardice than I would rather stay a coward but with my enemies eventually helplessly writhing under my feet rather than dying like a "brave man" in an open field and let my enemies have the last laugh.

Answer: There have been several books written that say advancing Soviet troops raped large numbers of Russian and Polish women held in concentration camps, as well as millions of Germans. Nobody said anything about the Vietcong being cowards. The remarks were addressed to you concerning your opinions; and they are not courageous. Most Americans opposed the War in Vietnam, and some of the people were against the war but remained silent. There were huge demonstrations.

"To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men." Abraham Lincoln

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