Whenever we debate a church-state issue like religion in public schools or the use of sectarian prayers before government meetings, we must always remember there is a human face behind every one of these controversies.
Someone’s rights are being violated. Someone is being treated like a second-class citizen. Someone is being singled out because of what he or she believes about theology.
A sophomore at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., reminded us of this recently. Devan Filchak, a journalism major, recounted how creationism was taught in her public school.
“I was surprised when my science teacher pulled up a video of the seven days of creation during class,” Filchak wrote in the Ball State Daily News. “The video was not only cheesy, but it crossed a line that is unconstitutional.”
She continued, “When I showed my distaste, my teacher picked on me, prodding me until I finally admitted I am Agnostic in front of the whole class. For about three or four days, the teacher brought up religion. I was upset, but I wasn’t sure who to talk to about it at first.”
Filchak writes that she approached the school guidance counselor, who dismissed her concerns and said he didn’t see a problem with creationism in the classroom. Filchak was a senior and the school year was drawing to a close, so she dropped the matter.
I’m fortunate to live in an area with a diverse, well educated population. Any attempt to introduce creationism into the schools my children attend would result in an immediate uproar. But I’m also aware that I can point my car in any direction, drive 50 miles and be in areas where that’s not necessarily the case.
We can’t have an education system where some young people learn modern biology untainted with religious fundamentalism and others get a dose of creationism simply because of geography. In fact, the teaching of creationism in public schools in unconstitutional – and that means it’s illegal in Biloxi as well as Boston.
The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette picked up on Devan’s column and opined that creationism in Indiana public schools is the state’s “dirty little secret.” I’m glad Devan shined a light on this issue, especially since she lives in a state where legislators are considering a patently unconstitutional creationism bill. Young people’s education is at stake, and we need more of them to speak out.
For all of those other Devans out there who are wondering what they can do to combat unconstitutional promotion of religion in their schools, I want you to know there is help. Contact Americans United. Our attorneys will investigate. If the activity is indeed a violation of separation of church and state, they’ll let the school officials and the district’s attorneys know about that and make it clear that they must stop.
Often we can resolve matters with a letter, but litigation is always a possibility. But remember, AU can’t just swing into town and start suing a school if we believe church-state separation is being violated. We have to represent local plaintiffs.
Every lawsuit we’ve ever filed, every case sponsored by an allied organization that we’ve joined and every letter we’ve mailed to school officials came about because someone picked up the phone or sent us an email to report a problem.
Americans United makes it easy by putting a “report-a-violation” form online. It’s right here.