Saturday, April 26, 2008
Off the Court
Ed Brayton has the story of the dismissal of what he calls "one of the strangest lawsuits I've ever heard of." Having seen the kind of looney-tunes cases Ed has uncovered in the past, I could not help but have my curiosity piqued, so I hunted down the decision. All I can say is that Ed exercised admirable understatement in his description.
The background is this: Joyce Marie Edwards, apparently a parent-volunteer at a local public school in Connecticut, brought a pro se (i.e. without representation by an attorney) lawsuit claiming that her rights of free speech and free exercise of religion under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution were violated by officials of her school.
Bizarre legal claim # 1: Instead of suing those school officials, she sued the United States and the Supreme Court because they "have failed to enforce the Constitution" in that they are "preventing volunteers and teachers from expressing Judaeo-Christian religious beliefs and sharing biblical teachings in the nation's public schools, while permitting the teaching of 'unsafe' and 'destructive' beliefs that threaten both 'life' and 'liberty.'"
Bizarre legal claim # 2: She claimed, as a basis of her suit, that "that this practice violates the Declaration of Independence and the Parent Teachers Association ("PTA") Mission Statement and Statement of Purpose."
Bizarre legal claim # 3: Ms. Edwards' suit sought to have the court:
... order the United States to enforce the First Amendment, the Declaration of Independence, and the PTA Mission Statement and Purpose ... [and] that the Bible be placed in all public school classrooms so that its teachings will be available to all students.So, what were those "unsafe" and "destructive" beliefs? I'm sure you will be shocked to learn that "humanism and evolution" were being taught in Trumbull, Connecticut, along with discussions of "American Indian spiritism," "Greek gods, Hindu beliefs, and the 'superstitions' of the Chinese New Year."
Edwards alleges that Booth Hill School was exposing the students to these beliefs and traditions while prohibiting her from sharing her own religious beliefs with the students. Specifically, she alleges that she was prohibited from sharing teachings from the Bible about the path to heaven.Examples from the decision should make the difference between "exposing" the children to something and what Ms. Edwards was doing clear:
First, while a presenter was discussing the Native American belief in the healing properties of certain stones during a school field trip, Edwards stated "that the only thing I found to truly help me stop doing bad things and healed me was receiving Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior (by reading the Word of God, the Holy Bible)." Second, while distributing candy canes to her oldest child's class, Edwards stated the students "could read the Bible and find out what the white and red mean and why this gift is first for the Jewish people, and then for everyone else." (References omitted).Not so strangely, as a result of these incidents, Edwards was precluded from participating in any activities at Booth Hill School during regular school hours by the school principal. She claimed that was an "unconstitutional double standard."
Besides the technical objections that the United States has not waived its "sovereign immunity" for cases such as this one and that the Supreme Court has "judicial immunity" from suit over the contents of its decisions, the District Court lacked jurisdiction because:
The public school officials, who allegedly violated Edwards' rights to free speech and free exercise of religion, are not federal employees, and their actions can not fairly be traceable to the United States.In short, she sued the wrong entity ... not that suing the school or its officials will get her any further.
But it was good for a laugh.
The part that jumped out at me: Where exactly in the Bible does it talk about the red and white of the candy canes? Pretty sure it mentioned shellfish and cloven-hoofed food sources (no-nos, both of 'em), and manna was apparently quite the fad, but candy canes??
Nice to hear from you again. You'll have to tip me off as to your new blog sometime.
People like her certainly make educating children about, well, anything, an exciting and challenging enterprise.