Child's choice of religious subjects in public school c

Jim Maule MAULE.Prof.Law at LAW.VILL.EDU
Tue Jan 20 18:19:13 PST 1998

"Steven D. Jamar" <sjamar at LAW.HOWARD.EDU> asks

> Jim,  would you permit a retelling of the story of Jesus, but just change
> the names Betty and Bob who have a son (or maybe daughter?) Pat in the
> guise of a non-religious story?

If the story claimed that there was resurrection, and salvation and
redemption through death, then there could be "too much" religious
overtone. But the story, as presented, was simply a tale of two
brothers who decided to be friends rather than continue being
angry (though the story doesn't say why they were angry in the first

Goodness, we ought to ban any story about a person stopping to
help another (Good Samaritan), any story about a person giving
good hospitality (Mary and Martha, the washing of feet, etc.) any
story that teaches if at first you don't succeed, etc etc.

> Mind you, I think the story of Jacob and Esau is pretty innocuous and the
> context, at least in the part quoted to us is pretty opaque.  But would it
> matter if the teacher required each child to tell the name of the book it
> comes from and who the author is - this was required of my kids at that
> age.  And so the name of the book is The Bible and the author is . . . god?

Where did it say that the child had to give the source of the story
(in contrast to the stated author whose name wasn't god, and the
stated book title (which was something like "One Family" or some such)
Of course, if they started doing literature-tracing, but in FIRST
grade? Goodness, that doesn't happen until years later.

> I think, Jim, the problem is a little more subtle than your response to it
> would make it seem.
How so?

> But certainly this child was singled out for special treatment (maybe good
> or bad from the child's perspective and that of the class as a whole) and
> that is a problem.
Certainly. This kid wasn't reading from "A Child's Garden of Bible
Stories" or "Children's Bible Tales" -- he was reading from something
that could even be considered dangerous by some Christians -- a
secularized version of a Bible story so altered that it's identity as
a Bible story is known only to those who know Bible stories.

> As to the court's assumption that these kids would see it as an endorsement
> - I think that is warranted to this extent - all books in elementary school
> are chosen for their messages or because kids will actually read them (in
> which case the message part falls out).  So there does seem to be an
> implicit endorsement.  But I think that this sort of reading in one
> classroom is so fleeting as to have the weight, for 1st amendment purposes,
> of a butterfly on a flower.

Agreed. (But then that butterfly in China flaps its wings, which
moves the air, which ... you've seen the commercial. I still don't
subscribe to much chaos theory anyhow -- else I'd be randomly
clapping  my hands all day.... :) :) :) )

Jim Maule
Professor of Law
Villanova University School of Law
Villanova, PA 19085
maule at
(610) 519 - 7135

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