Decades after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that officially sanctioned prayer and other religious activities in the public schools violate the First Amendment, some communities are still struggling over interfaith tensions in the classroom, The New York Times reported over the weekend,
Take, for example, the tragic situation reported on by The Times involving a Jewish family's battle to tamp down blatant proselytizing at a Delaware school district.
Mona Dobrich and her two children endured many years of proselytizing teachers at the Indian River School District in Georgetown, Del. In June 2004, The Times reported, Dobrich decided to take action after listening to a preacher's words at her daughter's graduation ceremony. Dobrich told the newspaper that the minister's message essentially boiled down to "no matter how good a person you are, the only way you'll ever be anything is through Jesus Christ."
After Dobrich asked the Indian River School Board to create a policy ensuring generic prayer at the district's graduation ceremonies, the community became riled and ultimately unsafe for the Dobriches. Mona and her son, Alex, moved to Wilmington. Her daughter, Samantha, enrolled in Columbia University and her husband, Marco, remained in Georgetown to care for the family's parents. Samantha eventually had to leave Columbia because of the financial difficulty spurred by the religious dispute.
The Dobriches subsequently filed a lawsuit against the Indian River School District in Sussex County arguing that teachers promoted and encouraged religious activities and that students of the majority faith were granted special treatment.
The Dobriches were joined in the lawsuit by another district family, which chose to remain anonymous because of the animus directed at the Dobriches. The newspaper also reported that a Muslim family has lodged a lawsuit against another Sussex County school district for school-sponsored proselytizing that has led to harassment of the family's daughters.
The Times reporter found, after listening to local citizens, that the majority's wishes for prayer in the public schools were unlikely to be hampered by those citizens with minority faiths or no faiths.
"We have a way of doing things here, and it's not going to change to accommodate a very small minority," Kenneth R. Stevens told The Times. "If they feel singled out, they should find another school or excuse themselves from those functions. It's our way of life."
Stevens' approach is deeply offensive and against the mandates of the Constitution. Delaware's public schools are supported by all taxpayers, not just Christian ones. Public schools are there to provide education for all children, regardless of their religious beliefs. It's too bad that it takes a lawsuit in federal court to enforce the separation of church and state.