On first hearing, the stories coming out of Cupertino, Calif., last month certainly sounded outrageous.
A public school teacher named Stephen Williams says he was told to stop teaching about the Declaration of Independence in his fifth-grade history class because it contains a reference to the “Creator.”
Fox News Channel and the usual bevy of right-wing commentators were soon going apoplectic over the incident. Public schools, they cried, are so religion-phobic they won’t even permit historical references to God.
As it turns out, the entire case is built on a tissue of lies.
Williams’ attorneys at the Alliance Defense Fund, a group funded primarily by TV preachers, issued a press release Dec.12 headlined, “Declaration of Independence Banned From Classroom.” That’s not what happened.
In fact, Williams wanted to paper students with handouts designed to “prove” that the United States was founded to be a Christian nation and that promote his fundamentalist beliefs. School officials made him stop.
The Declaration of Independence was never banned, as even Williams himself admits. Appearing on Fox News Channel’s “Hannity & Colmes” on Dec. 8, Williams called the claim “a little bit of a stretch.”
School officials did decide that some other materials Williams wanted to use were inappropriate. Among these was a handout listing what famous historical figures have allegedly said about the Bible. The figures are nine U.S. presidents and Jesus Christ.
As noted elsewhere in this issue, reporters did some digging and soon learned that parents have been complaining about Williams’ crusade. He has been using his classroom to promote his religion, and many parents are fuming. Apparently, Williams believes he has a duty to proselytize. One girl told her dad, “Mr. Williams talks about Jesus 100 times a day.”
Williams was hired to teach, not preach. If he can’t keep his personal religious views out of the classroom, he needs to find another line of work.
The ADF filed this case not to win it but to attack public schools. People who hear only half of the story “didn’t some school somewhere ban the Declaration of Independence?” will think poorly of public schools. That’s just what the ADF wants. If it can’t convert the schools into academies for fundamentalism and so far the courts have nixed that tearing them down is the next best thing. Turning the public against them is the first step in that process.
Baseless cases like this get the ADF’s name in the papers and spread its propaganda far and wide. But they also have another effect: They hurt the children who rely on these schools for an education. It’s too bad the ADF doesn’t care about them.