Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Delaware County Bible Mom

"All About Me" is now All About A Lawsuit There is an upset mother in Delaware County. And she is upset enough to sue on behalf of her six year old son, and the Christian Bible. The kindergarten class of the Culbertson Elementary School, in the Marple Newtown School District, had a classroom activity called All About Me in which:
...parents of Culbertson Elementary School kindergarten students were invited to the school last October "to share a talent, short game, small craft or story" that would help the class learn a little more about their child. []
One of the options was to have the mother or father share a reading from the child's favorite book. So far, so good. Right? Right. On the appointed day, Newtown Square resident Donna Kay Busch, mother of 6-year-old Wesley Busch, came to her son’s class prepared to read a passage from his favorite book. To be specific, she planned to read four verses from Psalm 118 of the Old Testament. That's right, little Wesley's favorite book is the Bible. Well, the teacher got a tad concerned and contacted the school principal, Thomas Cook. Mr. Cook concluded that reading the passage would violate the separation of church and state, and decided against letting her read it in class. At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that the "Bible Mom" is upset enough to sue. This very month, Busch filed suit in U.S. District Court:
The school district, school board, Mesaros [Superintendent] and Cook are named as defendants in the suit, which states 6-year-old Wesley Busch "suffered personal humiliation, embarrassment and emotional distress" as a result of the decision not to let his mother read Psalm 118 of the Old Testament. Busch is seeking damages in excess of $100,000, attorney’s fees and a ruling from the court that acknowledges her rights were violated. []
Is this a problem? Does the lawsuit seem frivilous? Some folks are saying that if the mother had wanted to read from any other religious text, there wouldn't even be a story. But Ed Partridge, president of the Marple Newtown School Board, has acknowledged that:
[R]eligion may be talked about in schools "in terms of culture and tradition. But no one is allowed to come in and read from the Bible, the Torah or the Koran."
So, is this a case of Bible-bashing? Or is the school board justified in their actions? In general, I don't see what the big deal is. I have no more a problem with a reading from the Christian Bible than I do with passages from the Havamal, the Upanishads, the Tao Teh Ching, the Kalavala, or a Native American sacred story. In fact, I would hope that -- within the context of exposing children to various religious ideas and pointing out that different people believe different things -- teachers are doing this very kind of thing. But perhaps I'm just naive on this topic. However, I have to say a few things before closing:
  1. I am a little skeptical that a six year old -- with no coaching from his mother -- chose the Bible as his favorite book.
  2. Perhaps Busch could have picked a better passage than Psalm 118 as her reading. Even if little Wesley truly did choose the Bible for his mother to read, I really can't see a six-year-old putting this particular chapter on his top-ten list.
  3. This whole thing smacks of an attention-getting "oh Christians are being persecuted" attempt. Just check out this quote from Busch:
    "I would like there to be an awareness of the hostilities toward Christians that exist at that school." [Philly Inquirer]
Hostilities? Really? I don't think Busch's situation qualifies as hostile. This does. But in Culbertson Elementary's case, maybe school officials are just not comfortable with proselytizing Christians. Now, I have heard that there is a difference between Proselytizing and Evangelizing, but they both seem undesirable to me. The bottom line is this: Unless Person A specifically asks Person B about B's faith, or the subject comes up in the course of a philosophical discussion, Person B should pretty much keep said faith to oneself. Background: Updated 05.27.2005 with new title.

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