Friday, May 11, 2007
Settling For Heroism
You may remember Matt 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. Matt's parents filed notice that they intended to sue the school district not only for the violation of his First Amendment rights but also for the district's failure to protect Matt from harassment by other students. The LaClairs were supported by the ACLU and People for the American Way.
Matt had taped the teacher, David Paszkiewicz, covertly, fearing that his word would not be accepted against that of the popular teacher. Paszkiewicz can be heard on the tapes telling students in a history class that if they do not believe that Jesus died for their sins, they "belong in hell." He also said that that dinosaurs were aboard Noah's ark and that evolution and the Big Bang theory have no scientific basis. Amazingly for someone who dares to tell others who is and is not going to hell, Paszkiewicz reportedly denied making the statements until the recordings were produced.
The board's initial response was, to put it mildly, less than satisfactory. It instituted a policy that requires students to request permission from an instructor to record or videotape a class, ostensibly as a result of complaints by other students that that their voices had been broadcast on the Internet and on television news programs without their consent. And while the board said it had taken "corrective action" against Paszkiewicz, it refused to be specific, leaving the definate impression that the teacher was being wrist-slapped while the board tried to make sure no uppity students could catch him red-handed again in the future.
As part of the settlement, in which neither side admits wrongdoing, the New Jersey regional office of the Anti-Defamation League will start training teachers and students in September about keeping church and state separate in public schools, and about “the distinction between the scientific theory of evolution and the religious doctrine of creationism.”.
Another part of the deal says the board will make a public statement commending Matthew for his “courage and integrity,” and the LaClairs will issue a statement commending the board.
Demetrios K. Stratis, the lawyer for Mr. Paszkiewicz, said that his client was not involved in the settlement and knew nothing about it. “There are people who think my client is the victim,” Mr. Stratis said yesterday.The final word goes to Matt, who clearly is the hero of the piece:
“I sincerely hope the board and everybody involved possibly learned something from this whole thing.”.
He said that he had learned plenty, “like how hard it can be sometimes to go against the grain, and that a lot of times, even though things may be tough, you still have to go through with it and finish it.”