If you substitute poor Rudolph for “Jesus” and any reindeer games for “school,” the admonition of a first-grade teacher to one of her 6-year-old charges would seem slightly less ridiculous — but only slightly.
CBSLA is reporting that Advocates for Faith & Freedom, an Irvine, Ca.-based nonprofit law firm, sent a letter Monday to the West Covina Unified School District on behalf of the student, Isaiah Martinez, who brought candy canes to his class at Merced Elementary School on Dec. 13 as Christmas gifts for his teacher and classmates.
The problem with the sweet treats, in the view of teacher Valerie Lu, was not their high sugar content (be thankful for small blessings?). It was the message attached to each that that recited the history of the confection, which included references to the cane as a symbol of Jesus Christ. Lu conferred with Principal Gordon Pfitzer, who upheld her objection. After telling Isaiah that “Jesus is not allowed in school,” Lu tore the offending message from each cane, then returned the candy to the child for distribution to his fellow first graders.
In a statement from the religious rights group, attorney Robert Tyler said the school district’s actions were “hostile and intimidating,” adding:
Advocates for Faith & Freedom has experienced a surge in phone calls from students and their parents across the country who are victims of religiously motivated bullying; not bullying by other students, but bullying by teachers and school officials. The pendulum has swung so far in the opposite direction that public schools are becoming a place of hostility toward Christian and other religiously-based worldviews.
The statement also called on the district to implement training for teachers and other school officials on the First Amendment, “particularly as it relates to the rights of students to express themselves with religious viewpoints.”
Ultimately, Isaiah was permitted to hand out the candy canes cum note, but he had to do it off-campus and on the last day of school before everybody left for winter break.
In a statement released Monday, Superintendent Debra Kaplan said:
At the present time, we do not have any reason to believe that the teacher or any other district employee had any intention other than to maintain an appropriate degree of religious neutrality in the classroom and to communicate this to the child in an age-appropriate manner.
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