Student receives death threat after teacher proselytizes in public school

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Student receives death threat after teacher proselytizes in public school

I just noticed that a story was run about The Blasphemy Challenge on this site:
http://guerillawomentn.blogspot.com/2006/12/blasphemy-challenge.html
At the bottom there is an update from another story that I had heard briefly some time ago, but didn't delve too far into.

Here is the story of importance from the NY times.

I instantly contacted the family in question and was granted interview time, so if you have any questions for them please post them in this thread and I'll see if I can have them asked.

KEARNY, N.J. — Before David Paszkiewicz got to teach his accelerated 11th-grade history class about the United States Constitution this fall, he was accused of violating it.

Shortly after school began in September, the teacher told his sixth-period students at Kearny High School that evolution and the Big Bang were not scientific, that dinosaurs were aboard Noah’s ark, and that only Christians had a place in heaven, according to audio recordings made by a student whose family is now considering a lawsuit claiming Mr. Paszkiewicz broke the church-state boundary.

“If you reject his gift of salvation, then you know where you belong,” Mr. Paszkiewicz was recorded saying of Jesus. “He did everything in his power to make sure that you could go to heaven, so much so that he took your sins on his own body, suffered your pains for you, and he’s saying, ‘Please, accept me, believe.’ If you reject that, you belong in hell.” The student, Matthew LaClair, said that he felt uncomfortable with Mr. Paszkiewicz’s statements in the first week, and taped eight classes starting Sept. 13 out of fear that officials would not believe the teacher had made the comments.

Since Matthew’s complaint, administrators have said they have taken “corrective action” against Mr. Paszkiewicz, 38, who has taught in the district for 14 years and is also a youth pastor at Kearny Baptist Church. However, they declined to say what the action was, saying it was a personnel matter. “I think he’s an excellent teacher,” said the school principal, Al Somma. “As far as I know, there have never been any problems in the past.”

Staci Snider, the president of the local teacher’s union, said Mr. Paszkiewicz (pronounced pass-KEV-ich) had been assigned a lawyer from the union, the New Jersey Education Association. Two calls to Mr. Paszkiewicz at school and one to his home were not returned. In this tale of the teacher who preached in class and the pupil he offended, students and the larger community have mostly lined up with Mr. Paszkiewicz, not with Matthew, who has received a death threat handled by the police, as well as critical comments from classmates.

Greice Coelho, who took Mr. Paszkiewicz’s class and is a member of his youth group, said in a letter to The Observer, the local weekly newspaper, that Matthew was “ignoring the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which gives every citizen the freedom of religion.” Some anonymous posters on the town’s electronic bulletin board, Kearnyontheweb.com, called for Matthew’s suspension. On the sidewalks outside the high school, which has 1,750 students, many agreed with 15-year-old Kyle Durkin, who said, “I’m on the teacher’s side all the way.” While science teachers, particularly in the Bible Belt, have been known to refuse to teach evolution, the controversy here, 10 miles west of Manhattan, hinges on assertions Mr. Paszkiewicz made in class, including how a specific Muslim girl would go to hell.

“This is extremely rare for a teacher to get this blatantly evangelical,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a nonprofit educational association. “He’s really out there proselytizing, trying to convert students to his faith, and I think that that’s more than just saying I have some academic freedom right to talk about the Bible’s view of creation as well as evolution.” Even some legal organizations that often champion the expression of religious beliefs are hesitant to support Mr. Paszkiewicz. “It’s proselytizing, and the courts have been pretty clear you can’t do that,” said John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, a group that provides legal services in religious freedom cases. “You can’t step across the line and proselytize, and that’s what he’s done here.”

The class started on Sept. 11, and Matthew quickly grew concerned. “The first couple of days I had him, he had already begun discussing his religious point of view,” Matthew, a thin, articulate 16-year-old with braces and a passion for politics and the theater, recalled in an interview. “It wasn’t even just his point of view, it went beyond that to say this is the right way, this is the only way. The way he said it, I wasn’t sure how far he was going to go.” On the second day of taping, after the discussion veered from Moses’s education to free will, Matthew asked why a loving God would consign humans to hell, according to the recording.

Some of Matthew’s detractors say he set up his teacher by baiting him with religious questions. But Matthew, who was raised in the Ethical Culture Society, a humanist religious and educational group, said all of his comments were in response to something the teacher said. “I didn’t start any of the topics that were discussed,” he said. In a Sept. 25 letter to the principal, Matthew wrote: “I care about the future generation and I do not want Mr. Paszkiewicz to continue preaching to and poisoning students.” He met with school officials and handed over the recordings.

Matthew’s family wrote four letters to the district asking for an apology and for the teacher to correct any false statements he had made in class, particularly those related to science. Matthew’s father, Paul LaClair, a lawyer, said he was now considering legal action against the district, claiming that Mr. Paszkiewicz’s teachings violated their son’s First Amendment and civil rights, and that his words misled the class and went against the curriculum. Kenneth J. Lindenfelser, the lawyer for the Kearny school board, said he could not discuss Mr. Paszkiewicz specifically, but that when a complaint comes in about a teacher, it is investigated, and then the department leader works with the teacher to correct any inappropriate behavior. The teacher is monitored, and his or her evaluation could be noted, Mr. Lindenfelser said, adding that if these steps did not work, the teacher could be reprimanded, suspended or, eventually, fired.

As for the request that Mr. Paszkiewicz correct his statements that conflict with the district’s science curriculum, “Sometimes, the more you dwell on the issue, the more you continue the issue,” Mr. Lindenfelser said. “Sometimes, it’s better to stop any inappropriate behavior and move on.” The district’s actions have succeeded, he said, as the family has not reported any continued violations. Bloggers around the world have called Matthew courageous. In contrast, the LaClairs said they had been surprised by the vehemence of the opposition that local residents had expressed against Matthew. Frank Viscuso, a Kearny resident, wrote in a letter to The Observer that “when a student is advised by his ‘attorney’ father to bait a teacher with questions about religion, and then records his answers and takes the story to 300 newspapers, that family isn’t ‘offended’ by what was said in the classroom — they’re simply looking for a payout and to make a name for themselves.” He called the teacher one of the town’s best.

However, Andrew Lewczuk, a former student of Mr. Paszkiewicz, praised his abilities as a history teacher but said he regretted that he had not protested the religious discussions. “In the end, the manner in which Mr. Paszkiewicz spoke with his students was careless, inconsiderate and inappropriate,” he wrote to The Observer. “It was an abuse of power and influence, and it’s my own fault that I didn’t do anything about this.” One teacher, who did not give his name, said he thought both Matthew and his teacher had done the right thing. “The student had the right to do what he did,” the man said. As for Mr. Paszkiewicz, “He had the right to say what he said, he was not preaching, and that’s something I’m very much against.” Matthew said he missed the friends he had lost over his role in the debate, and said he could “feel the glares” when he walked into school. Instead of mulling Supreme Court precedents, he said with half a smile, “I should be worrying about who I’m going to take to the prom.”

- Brian Sapient


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Sapient
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I just spoke to Mr. LaClair

I just spoke to Mr. LaClair (originally spoke with his wife), he informed me that Matthew will be on Anderson Cooper tonight and then tommorrow morning on Good Morning America.

I'll be recording both and putting them on youtube.

- Brian Sapient


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MattShizzle
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This guy shouldn't be

This guy shouldn't be teaching in a public school.


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Sapient wrote:I just noticed

Sapient wrote:
I just noticed that a story was run about The Blasphemy Challenge on this site:
http://guerillawomentn.blogspot.com/2006/12/blasphemy-challenge.html
At the bottom there is an update from another story that I had heard briefly some time ago, but didn't delve too far into.

Here is the story of importance from the NY times.

I instantly contacted the family in question and was granted interview time, so if you have any questions for them please post them in this thread and I'll see if I can have them asked.

I think it is important to exemplify this on how athiests are disenfranchised in this country. There is no equal rights here. Society has made it so that we are afraid to speak out against any kind of discriminatory actions taken against us. This is wrong and unconstitutional. I will fight this till the day I die. THis is the main reason why I think it is important for atheists to unite and rise. To show we are not afraid of intimidation and that we will keep an eye out for bullshit proselytizing on state funded schools.

The question I have for the kid is this: Are you intimidated by the harsh reactions of the community and the death threats? A follow up if he says no. Will you be afraid to speak up in the future after your experience at this school?

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Iruka Naminori
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MattShizzle wrote:

MattShizzle wrote:
This guy shouldn't be teaching in a public school.

I agree with you. The teacher should have his ass fired, tenure or not. He not only crossed the line, he kept going and invaded the next country over.

I was hella uncomfortable when a religious college professor tried to proselytize me on his own time, off-campus. I felt he used his position as my teacher to cross the line. I have wrestled with the issue and even two years later wonder if I shouldn't report the incident. I told another college professor and she encouraged me to report it, but she was moving and didn't have to stick around for the fireworks.

My music theory class hates me because I outed myself as an atheist. Recently a religious student--at least I assume she's a religious student--told me that "I needed it," meaning the proselytization attempt. I got pissed anew and stewed over the incident, wondering if I should report it. I have to spend the next three semesters with this lady. I'm overjoyed. :| The class wasn't terribly fun for me except for the actual learning. I didn't "click" with any of the students. Most of them seemed to lack a sense of humor.

Religion comes up constantly on campus. A lady in piano class said she'd been without Jesus for 23 years and finally found him. I asked, deadpan, "Was he under the sofa cushions the whole time?" Luckily for me, she didn't understand what I said.

The problem is, if I report the borderline incident with the professor, it could get me in a lot of trouble because he's the head of the music department. Like I've said in other posts, I don't know what to do with my anger. I'm still pissed about this incident and wish there was something I could do about it that wouldn't get me into deep shit.

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Sapient
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Iruka Naminori wrote: I

Iruka Naminori wrote:

I don't know what to do with my anger. I'm still pissed about this incident and wish there was something I could do about it that wouldn't get me into deep shit.

 

You express it online. You can engage people in religious discussion online, away from your world, realizing that you are helping someone else that is unable to talk to that person. If this is sounding confusing let me clarify... as an example we'll use DMIclock. DMI is likely affecting people in his life the way you were affected by your teacher. Instead of addressing your teacher, address DMIclock, if enough people speak out, someone else will be addressing these issues with your teacher.

I'm not saying to not have confrontations in your personal life, but the unfortunate truth is that making a stink with your teacher usually doesn't lead to good things.

 

- Brian Sapient


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Iruka Naminori
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Sapient wrote: DMI is

Sapient wrote:

DMI is likely affecting people in his life the way you were affected by your teacher. Instead of addressing your teacher, address DMIclock, if enough people speak out, someone else will be addressing these issues with your teacher.

I'm not saying to not have confrontations in your personal life, but the unfortunate truth is that making a stink with your teacher usually doesn't lead to good things.

Good point about DMIclock.  Having been a fundamentalist Christian, I can honestly say I thought I was doing the right thing, even though what I was doing was hurtful to others.  I'm sure DMIclock feels the same way.  What I didn't realize--and what he doesn't realize--is that fundamentalism is an obnoxious and arrogant stance to take, putting aside the fact that it isn't even true.

I don't think anyone will ever "get to" my teacher.  He's insulated by a fundy community because that is what he chose.  Even people who aren't fundies would defend him.  I will have to find a way to deal with it within myself.   (I can take a little bit of satisfaction from the fact that one of his kids deserted the Christian religion. Smiling )

 

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Iruka Naminori wrote: I

Iruka Naminori wrote:

I don't think anyone will ever "get to" my teacher. He's insulated by a fundy community because that is what he chose. Even people who aren't fundies would defend him.



And therein lies the problem with moderates. They usually aren't pushy, but they will defend the extremists views vociferously. *sigh*

Good luck with your teacher and classes. Noone should have to deal with that in an already stressful school environment. I always wonder what the outcry would be like if "Atheist Clubs" went around attempting to convert theists. Or if a buch of atheist students told the one theist in the class they needed to give up their fairytales. I've never EVER heard of it happening....

Semi-related story: Once when I was still a wiccan(yes yes, hahaha, I was 13, ok?)  in jr. high school I was wearing a pentacle necklace.  Usually it was stuffed in my shirt. One day in science class it fell out. My science partner, who was a christian girl, saw it. And asked what it meant. I explained the whole wiccan thing to her, "harm none, worship the goddess as nature", yadda yadda yadda. She got really silent, and didn't talk to me the rest of class. The next day when I came into class she was sitting at another desk. The teacher had to reassign me a new partner. The girl who moved(who I'd been pretty good friends with before this happened) wouldn't even look me in the eye ever again. I would try to make eye contact and give her a "what's wrong" face and her eyes would skim over me like she was looking through me. She didn't speak to me EVER again, in class, out of class or on the street. For years. Pretty sad. It made it pretty hard to concentrate in some classes I shared with her. Religious pressure in school sucks.