Education officials in New York City took the right step when they fired a public school teacher who prayed with students in class and defiantly said she would do it again, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
The church-state watchdog group says Mildred Rosario violated the Constitution and the rights of parents and students by preaching her personal religious views to elementary schoolchildren, praying with them and laying on hands.
"Parents, not teachers or school officials, should decide what religious views children are exposed to," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. "Teachers must not foist their personal religious views on students."
Rosario was ousted from I.S. 74, a Bronx public school, after the June 12 incident, which came to light when a Jehovah's Witness student expressed reservations about the activity. The family of that child, an 11-year-old girl, says she is afraid to return to school.
Rosario has remained recalcitrant, and during a June 17 rally told supporters, "I would do it all over again."
Lynn said comments like that indicate education officials did not overreact in firing Rosario. "If Ms. Rosario had apologized and agreed to obey the law, a reprimand might have sufficed," Lynn said. "But she pledged open defiance of the Constitution and court rulings. It seems to me that the Board of Education had no choice but to let her go."
Lynn criticized Rep. Tom DeLay and other members of Congress for championing Rosario's cause. "This incident has become a political football and an opportunity for politicians to engage in demagoguery," observed Lynn. "Do they really think it's okay for teachers to break the law?
"Some members of Congress are clearly desperate to placate their disgruntled Religious Right constituency," Lynn charged.
The New York Post has reported that Rosario was due to be fired anyway for poor classroom performance and absenteeism.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.