Don't let theocrats force their beliefs on public schools

Don't let theocrats force their beliefs on public schools
By LEN LACARA Managing Editor Zanesville TimesRecorder, August 10, 2008, original
I haven't said much about the brouhaha over the Bible on the teacher's desk. But a lot of other people have.

The Chicago Tribune summed up the battle well in a recent article. Tim Jones wrote:

"The case of John Freshwater, a 21-year veteran of (the) Mount Vernon City School District, has split this pleasant central Ohio community into squabbling camps - those who see Freshwater as a heroic father figure, persecuted for his Christian beliefs and his insistence on having his personal Bible on his desk, and those who condemn him as a religious predator promoting creationism and intelligent design and undermining the teaching of evolution, in violation of school policy."

At least two Web sites - http://bibleonthedesk.com and http://supportfreshwater.com - have been created on his behalf. He even has his own Wikipedia page.

On Monday, 500 people turned up at a public hearing at which Freshwater defended his actions. His appeals hearing is scheduled to begin Aug. 26.

If this were a simple matter of a book in a classroom, I would be squarely in Freshwater's corner. There is nothing wrong with a teacher displaying a Bible on a desk.

And there is nothing simple about the schemes of the religious radicals seeking to overthrow the American government.

Make no mistake: Many of John Freshwater's supporters believe the United States should be ruled as a Christian theocracy. The idea of a secular school system that favors no religion drives them crazy.

They cite the Freshwater story as an example of religious persecution. What they don't want you to focus on is his refusal over the years to adhere to district policy and his determination to teach religious theories like "intelligent design" in public classrooms. The independent report on his conduct makes his insubordination clear.

I'm not sure what would please the theocrats more - turning Freshwater into a Christian martyr when he's fired, or allowing him to return to the classroom and proselytize.

The problem with "putting God back in the schools" is this: Whose God should be there?

It's impossible to accommodate the wide variety of Christian and non-Christian beliefs - not to mention those who choose not to believe. If prayer in public schools meant forcing kids to pray the Rosary daily, the theocrats would revolt.

The Bible tells us "there is a time to every purpose under the heaven." When it comes to matters of faith, the time and the place are at church and at home.

The Mount Vernon school board should be commended for sticking to its principles. So should John Freshwater, who I suspect means well. I hope he puts them in practice in the appropriate venue - a private, Christian school.

Len LaCara is managing editor of the Times Recorder. You can call him at 740-450-6751 or e-mail him at llacara@nncogannett.com. You also can read his blog online at www.zanesvilletimesrecorder.com/editor.