Saturday, February 24, 2007
Rough Seas Ahead
Matthew LaClair, a Kearny, New Jersey high school student who dared to point out that a popular teacher (supposedly of American history but actually a person utterly ignorant of the Constitution of the United States) was violating the Establishment Clause by proselytizing in class on the taxpayers' time, and his parents are contemplating a suit against the school district and they are being supported by the ACLU and People for the American Way.
Matthew, 16, taped the teacher, David Paszkiewicz, telling students in a history class at Kearny High School that if they do not believe that Jesus died for their sins, they "belong in hell."
On the recordings, which Matthew made covertly, fearing that his word would not be accepted against that of the popular teacher, who reportedly denied the charges until the recordings were produced, Paszkiewicz can be heard saying in class that dinosaurs were aboard Noah's ark and that evolution and the Big Bang theory have no scientific basis.
The LaClairs filed a notice of claim against the school board, Paszkiewicz and other school officials, a legal requirement before a lawsuit can be filed.Since Matthew turned over the tapes to school officials, his family and supporters said, he has been the target of harassment and a death threat from fellow students and "retaliation" by school officials who have treated him, not the teacher, as the problem. The retaliation, they say, includes the district's policy banning students from recording what is said in class without a teacher's permission and officials' refusal to punish students who have harassed Matthew.
Matthew and his parents, Paul and Debra LaClair, are demanding an apology to Matthew and public correction of some of Paszkiewicz's statements in class.
"The school created a climate in which the students in the school community held resentment for Matthew," said Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the ACLU in New Jersey. She said Kearny High School had "violated the spirit and the letter of freedom of religion and the First Amendment."
A lawyer for the district, Angelo J. Genova, said that Kearny school officials had addressed Matthew's complaints and had reaffirmed their commitment to the separation of church and state in the classroom. Also, Bernadette McDonald, president of the school board, said in a statement that "we took his concerns very seriously. The result was that we have received no further complaints about such religious proselytization in our schools."
Ms. McDonald is being somewhat disingenuous making this assertion, in that, if the LaClair's accusations are true that the board is protecting the teacher and refusing to punish those who are harassing Matt, there would be little wonder that no other student would dare to complain. That's rather the point of the prospective suit. Nor are the complaints farfetched, given the fact that, to this day, the district has refused to disclose what action it has taken against Paszkiewicz, who is now teaching the same course to a different group of students.
One reason for the requirement of a notice of claim is to give a governmental agency warning of the problem it is facing and to give it a chance to address the issue and change course before incurring even greater liability.
Remember the good ship Dover!