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Is School District Anti-Christian?

Is School District Anti-Christian?
is it possible to discriminate against the dominant religion and religious ideology in a society? Some people say yes, and there's been a controversy in North County's San Dieguito Union High School District about an alleged anti-Christian bias.

The United States of America doesn't have a state religion, but it is certainly true that most Americans who have a religion are Christian. So, is it possible to discriminate against the dominant religion and religious ideology in a society? Some people say yes. There's been a controversy in North County's San Dieguito Union High School District about an alleged anti-Christian bias.

Guests: Dean Broyles, president of the Western Center for Law and Policy

Ken Noah, superintendent, San Dieguito Union High School District.


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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

FUDGE: I'm Tom Fudge. You're listening to Midday Edition here on KPBS of the United States does not have a state religion. In fact, the constitution guarantees there will be none. But Americans are a very religious people, and most Americans are Christian, either spiritually or cult really. Today, some people argue that state officials and school officials effectively discriminate against Christians as they seek to maintain a secular state. In fact, there's been a controversy going on in North County San Diegito school districts. It alleges anti-Christian bias, and violation of free speech rights of Christians. And joining me to discuss this issue are my guests, Dean Broyles, and Ken Noah. Dean is president of the western center for law and policy in Escondido. He joins me in studio. And dean, thank you for coming in.

BROYLES: Great to be with you Tom.

FUDGE: Ken Noah is superintendent of the San Diegito union high school district. And Ken, thanks to you as well.

NOAH: Thank you.

FUDGE: And you're listening to Midday Edition on KPBS. If you would like to chime in, 1-888-895-5727 is the number to call. Dean, I'm going to start with you since you seem to be the person who has raised this issue. First of all, tell us what is your mission at the western center for law and policy and how does it relate to the subject we're talking about?


BROYLES: Well, personally, my specialty is in constitutional law. And we focus at the western center for law and policy primarily on first amendment issues dealing with religious free exercise and the establishment clause, and free speech rights. That's primarily what our work entails. And we've handled a number of various issues over the years, including a number of cases involving public schools.

FUDGE: And in this case, the public schools in the San Diegito school district, are you saying to us that they have an anti-Christian bias?

BROYLES: Not necessarily. I mean -- you have to be very fact specific as to each issue and each fact involved. We were dealing with probably currently about 4 to 5 different issues in the district. And some of the issues I would say there has been some anti-Christian bias exhibited. Of in others not necessarily. And so it really depends on the particular administrator or teacher that we're dealing with.

FUDGE: Well, let's talk about one of those issues that you had brought up. For instance, you have expressed concern to the San Diegito union high school district about middle school assembly last year on the contributions of Islam to civilization. Now, what is your main concern with that one?

BROYLES: Actually, we don't have a concern that they had an assembly on Islam. But what we did do is we looked at the seventh grade history textbook and looked at the state education standards, and a group of concerned Christian parents from the district approached us and asked us if we could ask the district to have a special assembly on the contributions of Christianity to world history. So we asked the district to do that.

FUDGE: And what response did you get from the district.

BROYLES: The response was no.

FUDGE: Okay. And why did you think it was appropriate or important to have that assembly in response to the first one?

BROYLES: Well, first of all, our request is consistent with the United States constitution. The United States supreme court in fact has said that one's education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. Christianity in particular had a profound impact on the formation and development of western Europe and the United States. And it's important that educated citizens understand that impact.

FUDGE: Ken Noah, I'm going to under turn to you.

NOAH: Okay.

FUDGE: And we are talking about the assembly on Islam last year.

NOAH: Right.

FUDGE: And my guest has told me, Mr. Broils has told me, that the school district said no to his request that you do an assembly on Christianity. Can you address that?

NOAH: Certainly. First of all, a point of clarification. There was no assembly on Islam. In fact, some of our teachers working through their principal invited speakers from the local Islamic speakers' bureau to come in and make presentations to individual classes.

FUDGE: Because when I think about an assembly, I think about, you know, when everybody in the school crowds into the gym and they --

NOAH: Exactly.

FUDGE: And they hear people speaking about stuff. You're saying that didn't happen.

NOAH: That did not happen.

FUDGE: But you had some Islamic people come in and address --

NOAH: Correct. The seventh grade world history curriculum begins with the first chapters in the book on the rise of Islam. The sixth grade curriculum, and by the way, we do not have sixth grade in our district, sixth grade curriculum focuses much more intently on the contributions of Christianity and Jews wimp. For me, the issue was not around any kind of instruction, whether it be in a classroom or an assembly with respect to Christianity or contributions to Christianity. My concern went beyond that, and it had to do with the specifics of the request, which were made to one of our principals which would have been to invite the -- a youth pastor from a local church to come in and do that assembly for all students. And I just -- first of all, I did not feel that that was an appropriate activity to have take place. But I am definitely not opposed to supplementing our instruction on the contributions of Christian or the contributions of Judaism, or the contributions of Buddhism or whatever it might be, or any other unit of study in any other content area which we regularly do. But that largely is a decision that's made as a result of a specific request from a teacher or a decision by a teacher around use of supplemental material. So from my perspective, this was not an issue of whether this district was favoring one religion or another or by saying no to a request to have an assembly on the contributions of Christianity, that somehow that was evidence of an anti-Christian bias.

FUDGE: How has the San Diegito school district taught people about the contributions of Christianity to civilization?

NOAH: Yes.

FUDGE: You have.

NOAH: Yes, that is -- as dean said, that is part of the state curriculum, and therefore the district curriculum in social studies.

FUDGE: Dean, what I kind of hear from Ken is that he is saying that rather than bring in a person who had a scholarly perspective on Christianity, you wanted to bring in somebody who was a pastor and maybe had a more religious or spiritual perspective. What's your response to that?

BROYLES: The person we wanted to bring in was, I believe, a certified social studies teacher who happens to be a youth pastor. And I think it's absolutely insane that the objection to him was that he was a youth pastor or somehow a religious person. Because as I explained in the letter I wrote back to Ken Noah on this topic, pastors and Christian leaders speak in public schools all the time, all day long across the United States. The only restriction when anybody speaks in a public school, no matter what their faith back ground is, is are they or are they not proselytizing their faith? As long as the pastor or teacher or Imam or Buddhist monk is not proselytizing their faith, they're not violating the statute clause. So the rejection of him on those grounds I believe is objectionable. But also, Mr. Noah didn't write us back and say choose a more scholarly person and we may consider letting it happen. He just said no.

FUDGE: He has also said that the school district has already taught or maybe the elementary school district already has taught about the contributions of Christianity to civilization, that they have been there and done that.

BROYLES: Well, that may or may not be true. About you if you're going to supplement other religious chapters on Islam or Buddhism, as the school did, has done in the past, whether it's an assembly or individual classroom, that's really a distinction that makes no difference -- if you're going to do that, fine. But do that also on Christianity, because there's actually more chapters in this textbook on Christianity than there are on Islam, and to have an extra speaker come in on the contributions of Christianity is really only a request for equal time and equal treatment.

FUDGE: Dean broils is president of the western center for law and policy in Escondido. Ken Noah is superintendent of the San Diegito union high school district. We're talking about a controversy over the presentation and representation of religion in ladles there. If you want to give us a call, 1-888-895-5727. Let's move on, dean, to another issue that I think has been brought up in the San Diegito district. And it had something to do with a young man, I think, writing either down a bit of scripture or religious message on a bulletin board. Can you tell us about that? Do I have that right?

BROYLES: I'll give the basic facts. Basically an ASB class in the month of December of 2010 was asked to decorate the bulletin board for that month. And a teacher told the students outright that they could not use the word Christmas or have a Christmas tree or anything that had to do with Christ on the bulletin board, even though obviously that's a federal holiday, and Christmas occurs in December. And the excuse that we were given is even though the students were decorating the board, it's their free speech rights involved, the school has stated that it's a school's wall, and people may be confused about whether the school is endorsing or supporting Christianity. So therefore they had to -- the teacher was right in doing what she did. And I think that's simply wrong, legally, and it's outrageous.

FUDGE: So we're not talking about a specific thing that somebody wrote on the board. We're just talking about the policy that says you object to the policy that says you can't talk about Christmas.


FUDGE: Okay. And Ken Noah, let me ask you about that. First of all, do you feel that dean represents the situation correctly?

NOAH: Well, I don't. And I -- if I could I think on an earlier point where we were talking about supplementing curriculum, particularly with respect to Christianity. I in fact did respond to Keen that if the district chose to use scholarly expertise to supplement the history of Christianity, we would do so, should the need or request arise. The fact that this -- that Dean is couching this in the terms of equal access is sort of a nonargument for me because once it makes that an argument about any aspect of any part of the curriculum, where in one instance we chose to supplement it with an outside speaker, and others we have not. So I would reject that argument.

FUDGE: Okay, well, what about this business of not talking about Christmas on the bulletin board?

NOAH: Well, I don't know what that particular reference is to. Essentially what we said in response to the concern that was raised about the bulletin board at Carmel Valley middle school -- is that the district in fact has the right and the responsibility to insure that in the classroom bulletin boards, which are supposed to be display for student work and so forth, maintain a secular nature. And I think that's reasonable to do. It's not anti-Christian or anti-Christmas or anti-Judaism or antiwhatever it might be the case. So I think it's reasonable that there are expectations then about what can is displayed in a classroom.

FUDGE: Let me say one more time, we're talking with Ken Noah, superintendent of the San Diegito union high school district. In studio, I'm spooking with dean broils, president of the western center for law and policy in Escondido. And dean, you heard what Ken was saying, and you know if you know something about constitutional law, that we have a separation of church and state or a nonestablishment clause in the constitution. Upon do you think Ken is correct in being concerned that he might be breaching that line that's been drawn by our founding fathers?

BROYLES: Not at all. He's drawing the law far askance from where it is actually legal he or substantially. If he were correct, no school could ever mention Christmas or should mention Christmas. No school could have a Christmas pageant, sing Christmas songs or Chanukah songs for that fact. It's not the job of the state to eradicate religion from our public life. And what I fear is motivating Ken's viewpoint is a perversion of the establishment clause. It does not mention the separation of church ask state. It says Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or bridging the free exercise thereof. And when school districts tell students they can't mention the word Christmas, can't talk about Christmas or have it on a student decorated bulletin board, the school is showing government hostility toward religion that's not required by the establishment clause. The state may certainly acknowledge and accommodate religion without favoring it. And some school districts are so misinformed and ignorant that they use the separation of church and state as an excuse to eradicate religion. And whether it's being driven by bias or not, I don't know. But it is a misunderstanding and a perversion of the first amendment.

FUDGE: Well, Ken, eradicating religion from schools, is that a concern of you, and do you go with what you heard from Dean?

NOAH: I absolutely do not agree with what Dean just stated. In fact, to me, it sounded like a sound bite that I've heard repeated over and over and over again. This school district is not anti-Christian, it is not anti-Christmas, we don't prohibit discussion of those things. We don't prohibit students from participating in those things if they so choose. So to say that the school district's interpretation is resulting in that is just simply not true. And I've said to Mr. Broils in a letter, I'm profoundly disturbed by those implications on both a personal and professional level so that's simply not the case.

FUDGE: Well, I'm afraid we are gonna have to leave it at that. I want to thank my guests. They have been Ken Noah, who's superintendent of the San Diegito union high school district. Ken, thank you very much for joining us.

NOAH: All right. Thank you.

FUDGE: And also Dean Broyles is president of the western center for law and policy in Escondido. And dean, thank you very much for coming in.

BROYLES: Thank you.

FUDGE: If you'd like to comment on anything you hear on this program, please give your thoughts on line at Edition. Or follow us on twitter at I'm Tom Fudge. Maureen Cavanaugh will be back tomorrow. Thanks for tuning in to Midday Edition on KPBS.