Tearing of Bible pages and demeaning of Christianity nets student a one-week suspension and mandatory psychological assessment
A few days ago I posted a story on a high school student in Janesville, Wisconsin, who gave a fiercely anti-Christian class presentation. The presentation began with insults to the religion and its believers and culminated in the ripping of pages out of the Bible. For his actions, this student has received a one-week academic suspension and must receive a psychological assessment before returning to class.
The local District of Education’s legal counsel, attorney David Moore, described the events as follows:
The opinion states that a student was giving a presentation in class that involved his opposition to religion.
“In the course of doing so, he stated that no word of the Bible is true, that those who thought so were ‘idiots,’ that he would prove that persons in the class were ‘ignoramuses for believing in the Bible,’ and that the Bible was written by ‘a bunch of old Mesopotamian men with sand up their (expletive.)’
“He further said, ‘See, I can do this to the Bible and not be harmed because it is not true,’ and then proceeded to rip pages out of a Bible,” according to the document.
Regarding legal issues, Moore’s statement reads:
Moore’s legal opinion is that a student can’t be disciplined only for ripping the Bible, but the school could discipline him for using offensive language and for promoting “negative stereotyping that degrades or flagrantly demeans any individual or group by negatively referring to religion.”
Students have a constitutional right to free expression Moore wrote, but that right must be balanced with the legal rights of other students “not to be denied the benefit of educational programs or discriminated against on the basis of religion.
“In addition, the school has the right to maintain order and discipline …”
However, “the act of ripping up a Bible, in and of itself, is a form of (constitutionally) protected expression,” Moore wrote.
As I stated in my original posting on this incident as well as in the corresponding comment section, while I happily support the public defense of reason and criticism of religious belief, I do not agree with the methods of this individual. The newly publicized “sand up their asses” remark represents one more step passed the line of civility, regardless of the subject matter being discussed.
But was the punishment and required psychological assessment just and warranted? I do not think so. There is reason to believe that this response directly stemmed from the subject of the criticisms: Christianity. Had the student gotten up in front of his biology class and said that no word in The Origin of Species is true, that those who believed otherwise were idiots, that he would prove that persons in the class were ignoramuses for believing in it, and that it was written by a Brit with tea leaves up his ass, would this student have been suspended for a week and then required to undergo psychological assessment? I’m highly doubtful. I would hope that he would have been punished for his aggressive remarks to his peers and derogatory portrayal of British people and their stereotypical love of tea—though I wouldn’t be surprised if in some classrooms in America the child receives a pat on the back from his teacher—but that would probably be it. I don’t see such a student being sent home for a week and being barred from the school until he has received clearance from a registered clinical psychologist.
I surely think that this student’s actions warranted disciplinary actions. However, I’m thinking something more like a week’s worth of detention, a trip to the principal’s office for a good talking to, and a phone call home, not a one-week suspension and mandatory psychological assessment “for safety purposes”. Now some may disagree, saying that his acts were a malicious attack on beliefs and communities that are of the deepest importance to people. I genuinely do have sympathy for this. I can envision being angered by someone tearing The Origin of Species as a symbolic attack against the scientific and rationalist communities. However, until all acts against the beliefs and communities of others are given equal treatment, I can’t endorse treating the Bible incident any differently than had he maliciously insulted the intelligence of peers and a group of people 2000 years ago. And such equality of treatment is very unlikely to be the case today. Just as I don’t see the defacing of Darwin’s work resulting in suspensions and mandatory mental health assessments, I don’t see such consequences being dealt to a student who similarly insults believers in New Age mysticism, a local cult of 100, or an Indian religion that no one has ever heard of. This seems like just another example of political might determining what ideas and communities are and are not okay to mock.
(Hat Tip to Jack Rivall for his notification of this event)