Calif. Teacher’s Claims About Declaration Ban Are Dubious, Says AU

A California public school teacher’s claim that he has been denied the right to teach about the Declaration of Independence in the classroom because it contains a reference to the “Creator” is dubious, says Americans United.

Lawyers at Americans United have read the legal complaint filed by Steven Williams, a fifth-grade instructor at Stevens Creek Elementary School in Cupertino, and say it does not support the claims his legal team has made in the media.

The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), whose founders include right-wing religious broadcasters such as James Dobson and D. James Kennedy, issued a press release on Dec. 12 under the headline, “Declaration of Independence Banned From Classroom.” The release asserts that Principal Patricia Vidmar and other school officials have targeted Williams because he is an “orthodox Christian.”

In fact, critics say Williams was clearly trying to use his classroom for fundamentalist Christian proselytism. For more than a year, parents have complained to school officials that Williams has been using a slew of documents to push his religion at their children.

The New York Times and San FranciscoChronicle quoted several parents who were upset over Williams’ efforts to indoctrinate their children. They noted that Williams has provided his fifth-graders with supplemental material to buttress his beliefs about the role of Christianity in American history. That material, in addition to the Declaration of Independence, consisted of a variety of historical and other documents that mention God or Christianity.

One handout was called “What Great Leaders Have Said About the Bible.” It includes alleged quotes from nine U.S. presidents and ends with a quote from Jesus Christ, which says, “It is written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”

Williams also expected his fifth-grade class to read a lengthy essay by Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui, an 18th-century Swiss jurist who, according to the Columbia Encyclopedia, “attempted to demonstrate the reality of natural law by tracing its origin in God’s rule and in human reason and moral instinct.”

Parents began complaining to school officials that Williams was going beyond teaching about religion and was proselytizing their students.

“My daughter came home one day and said, ‘Mr. Williams talks about Jesus 100 times a day,’” Mike Zimmers told the Chronicle.

Parent Dorothy Pickler told the newspaper that she contacted school officials and requested that her fifth-grader not be subjected to Williams.

“Because what he’s doing isn’t teaching history,” she said. “If you were teaching at a church school, that would be great. But he isn’t.”

Armineh Noravian, whose son was in Williams’ class last year, was blunt, telling TheNew York Sun, “That’s a bunch of baloney this guy is saying.” Noravian said her son and others complained that Williams would bring up his Christianity almost daily.

“There are a lot of kids who would come home and tell their parents, they’re sick and tired of hearing about this guy’s religion,” Noravian said.

Williams has taken to right-wing radio and cable news opinion shows, such as Fox News Channel’s “Hannity & Colmes” and Pat Robertson’s “700 Club,” to press his case. On the Fox program, Williams admitted that the claim that the Declaration of Independence has been banned from his classroom is “a little bit of a stretch.”

Nevertheless, the inflammatory allegations have garnered lots of attention and spurred hysterical reaction from people nationwide who, according to newspaper accounts, have bombarded the elementary school with hateful threats and wildly uninformed declarations. A Cu­pertino public school official told the Chronicle that the district has received e-mails stating, “All of you in the school district can burn in hell.”

School officials aren’t backing down. They released a statement that they were bound “to uphold the First Amendment which mandates separation between church and state,” which includes ensuring that teachers with religious agendas, such as Williams, not subject captive audiences to preaching.

District spokesman Jeffrey Nishihara told the Chronicle, “The district has not stopped teaching about the Declaration of Independence.”