Preaching Allowed in Public Schools
This Article appeared in the Fall edition of Free Inquiry Magazine November 9, 1998
By Chris Mooney
ntil further notice, feel free to preach in public schools in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming (the territory of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals). Just don't come out and say that your intentions are religious.
Thatís the upshot of the Supreme Courtís refusal last June to reconsider, much less overturn, the Tenth Circuitís ruling in Rachel Bauchman v. West High School. The decision to turn away the case ignored an amici curiae brief endorsed by the Council for Secular Humanism, Americans for Religious Liberty, and others.
During the 1994-1995 school year, Rachel Bauchman, a Jewish sophomore at West High in Salt Lake City, Utah, joined the school choir. She was immediately forced to endure choir leader Richard Torgerson's Mormon proselytizing, which included in-class prayer and exhortation.
According to Rachelís statement, when she voiced objection to Torgersonís conduct, he began to berate her in his lectures and showed a complaint letter from Rachel's father to another choir memberís parents. Following this incident, Rachelís classmates took to calling her "Dirty Jew," "Jew Bitch," told her to "go back to Israel," and even drew a Nazi swastika on a poster she made for class.
The Tenth Circuit ruled that, because plausible secular purposes for his conduct existed, Torgersonís intention to inculcate religion had not been convincingly demonstrated.
The Tenth Circuit decision thus sets a precedent for shifting an excessive burden of proof onto the plaintiff in Establishment Clause suits. The silence of the Supreme Court, meanwhile, signals its tacit approval of a ruling that contradicts crucial First Amendment decisions.
( Rachel Bauchman appears on Talk of the Nation: "Religion and the Bill of Rights," February 5, 1996)
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