October 19, 2008

A tale of two schools, two ACLUs

In one, they've voiced an opinion. On the other, not so much. See if you can guess which is which.

The New York City teachers’ union filed a federal lawsuit on Friday claiming that a policy banning political pins and signs in schools violates teachers’ First Amendment rights by blocking them from political expression.

Randi Weingarten, president of the union, the United Federation of Teachers, said that while the policy has been on the books for more than two decades, it has rarely been enforced, and that teachers have routinely worn political buttons as recently as this year’s presidential primaries.

But in the lawsuit, the union — which has endorsed Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee — states that the principal of Community School 134 in the Bronx removed an Obama poster that a teacher placed on the union bulletin board, and that a teacher at another school who wore political buttons was warned against it.

Ms. Weingarten, who is also president of the American Federation of Teachers, and spoke at the Democratic National Convention in August, said that for a quarter of a century she had watched teachers “balance their obligations as professionals and their responsibilities as citizens.” She added that “teachers, maybe more than others, understand how important democracy is and how important the Constitution is, particularly the Bill of Rights.” (Source.)

The union is being assisted by Norman Siegel, formerly of the -- yep -- ACLU, who said

“We are just weeks away from a landmark presidential election that is being discussed in classrooms and at dinner tables across the nation,” and added, “Students can only benefit from being exposed to and engaged in a dialogue about current events.”

Right. I'm sure it's very "engaging" to "dialogue" with your teacher about the election when he/she has an Obama button on, and you're a McCain supporter. Let's see ... the teacher controls your grade, there's a definite power relationship (the teacher has it all)... unbelievable.

Elsewhere in Carlisle, PA, a teacher has been barred from participating in a student-led prayer event:

For the last six years, Cheryl Holquist, a science teacher at Carlisle High School, has met 50 students and more than a dozen teachers on the last Wednesday in September for 30 minutes of prayer as part of the national See You at the Pole event.

Holquist, who advises the high school's Christian-oriented Crossroads Club, wasn't there this year because she had other plans -- but she wouldn't have been allowed to show up anyway.

A new district guideline prohibits teacher participation in student-sponsored religious activities.

"It's an issue because [the prayer at the pole] takes place on school grounds," solicitor Jim Flower Jr. said. "That makes it sensitive." So does the fact that the prayer event happens right before school starts," he said.

Sara Rose, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, backed up Flower's opinion. While a student's right to expression is fairly clear-cut, a teacher's right is more of a gray area, Rose said. (Source.)

What a surprise, eh? Those [supposed] "Guardians of the Bill of Rights" are absolutists when it comes to that First Amendment ... except, of course when it comes to that "or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" clause.

Here's the deal: In the first case, having to take down the Obama flyer from the union bulletin board is ridiculous. It only applies to teachers, not students (students wouldn't even see it). On the other hand, outright support of a certain political candidate on school time may or may not violate the First Amendment; however, it is (or should be) a blatant violation of a teacher's job description. In addition, the Hatch Act provisions for employees of the "executive branch, state and local employees who are principally employed in connection with programs financed in whole or in part by loans or grants made by the United States or a federal agency," has the following prohibitions for employees:

  • be candidates for public office in partisan elections
  • campaign for or against a candidate or slate of candidates in partisan elections
  • make campaign speeches
  • collect contributions or sell tickets to political fund raising functions
  • distribute campaign material in partisan elections
  • organize or manage political rallies or meetings
  • hold office in political clubs or parties
  • circulate nominating petitions
  • work to register voters for one party only
  • wear political buttons at work

There is a provision of the Hatch Act for local and state employees; however, see if you can make sense of the following:

The Hatch Act applies to executive branch state and local employees who are principally employed in connection with programs financed in whole or in part by loans or grants made by the United States or a federal agency. Employees who work for educational or research institutions which are supported in whole or in part by a State or political subdivision of the State are not covered by the provisions of the Hatch Act.

I emphasized part of the above previously because I don't know of any school district which isn't "financed in whole or in part by loans or grants made by the United States or a federal agency." This provision would make virtually ALL schools fall under the federal Hatch guidelines. However, the second clause seems to negate that first clause as school districts are ALSO financed by local and state governments! The Hatch Act provisions for state and local employees are less restrictive.

In the second case, schools are NOT prohibited from allowing religious-oriented activities on their campuses (if sectarian activities are allowed, schools cannot discriminate against religious activities). However, the "See You at the Pole" prayer takes place before the official school day, is student-sponsored, and is NOT in any way backed by the school district.

If a student sees a teacher at this "Pole" event before school hours, this would be no different from, say, witnessing a teacher getting out of his car in the parking lot before school starts and seeing him with an Obama button on, or an Obama bumper sticker on his car.

But again, what's not surprising at all in these stories is the ACLU's stance. Just like its "let's imagine the 2nd Amendment isn't in the Bill of Rights" view of gun rights, the First Amendment is absolute -- except when it comes to any semblance of religious expression.

Posted by Hube at October 19, 2008 08:36 AM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

What if they were praying for Barack to win? They'd be like Mudd's women when Kirk overloads their circuits.

Posted by: Duffy at October 20, 2008 08:23 AM