This is a follow-up to my November 24, 2004 entry "Lawyers Want Declaration Of Independence Censored Due To Inclusion Of God References
I recently received an email from a parent at Stevens Creek School who is trying to clear up all of the hoopla that ensued when the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) filed suit against the Cupertino Union School District on behalf of 5th grade teacher, Stephen Williams. The parents have a website located at stevenscreekparents.org that has some pictures of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence that is proudly displayed in the school.
Contrary to most people's knowledge of this incident, the school did not ban the Declaration of Independence. The lawsuit was over a lesson plan that a teacher wanted to give to students in class and that seemed to be focused on the portion that mentions God.
I'll publish the email in full below, which includes some information on how the suit is progressing.
I am a parent at Stevens Creek School, the school accused of banning the Declaration of Independence. Your web site discussed the Reuters article last November, and I thought you might like an update.
First, the Declaration was never banned at Stevens Creek School. It is hanging on the library wall, printed in the 5th grade text book, and taught by every 5th grade teacher. Even Dr. Richard Ferrier of the Declaration Federation supports the school; he recently counseled Alan Keyes to remove a petition from Keyes' web site that urged his followers to harass the school.
So how did this urban legend get started? According to the Alliance Defense Fund (the prosecutors), it was a case of sloppy reporting. I'll attach their press release below. This press release isn't on their web site, probably because they are a little too embarrassed. If you call them, they will verify it is theirs (480- 444-0020). When our overly evangelical teacher proposed an over the top 45 minute lesson that included some handouts, the principal rejected his lesson, not the Declaration. It's a pity that the ADF didn't make themselves clear when they had the ears of all America on Sean Hannity's prime time show. Instead they waited 3 months and quietly issued the press release below saying ... whoops, you didn't read our fine print. Also of interest is that Reuters has deleted their article from its original URL, and we can't find it anymore; I believe they are worried about a slander suit.
Despite the ADF's lawyer-speak, the man on the street believed that the principal had removed the Declaration from the school and was X-ing out the word God from all historical documents. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Ironically, the principal is a Presbyterian and a Republican. She has strong feelings about God in the classroom herself. The "misunderstood" ADF headline incited over 3000 hate messages to the school, ranging from the more benign, "I hope you burn in Hell for all eternity," to the more sinister late night calls like, "I know where you live and you work at that God forsaken school." We had two sheriffs full time on campus for two months, and it scared the daylights out of our children.
About the legal case, the first hearing was held March 30, 2004 in San Jose. I have heard that three of the four charges were dismissed, and the ADF received some very harsh words from the judge about wasting the court's time (the judge reduced the ADF lawyer to a jibbering idiot on several occasions.) The judge found that Mr. William's freedom of speech was not violated. The judge reluctantly allowed the fourth charge, relating to descrimination based on religion, to go to discovery next October. In my view it will be next to impossible to place Mr. Williams in a "class" as none of the other teachers, Christian or not, wanted to distribute his supplemental materials in the first place. I believe the most likely outcome will be that the ADF will drop the remaining charge and slink back to Arizona. I find myself wondering if this is standard practice for the ADF, making noisy charges and then quietly dropping them; I wish I knew how to do this kind of research.
Personnally, I am glad that the principal acted to protect our children from our resident evangelist. He is a sweet and sincere man, but I don't believe he realizes how his enthusiasm for his own brand of religion intimadates and belittles his students of different faiths, including different Christian faiths. I am steadfastly against giving our public schools the right to teach religion. That's my job. I take my children to the church of my choice, and we read the Bible at home. Comparative religion classes may be useful in junior and senior high school, but fifth graders are much too young to understand they can disagree with a teacher and stand up for themselves.
Please contact me if you would like any further information, or see http://www.StevensCreekParents.org. Thanks for your time.
Below is the press release in full.
ALLIANCE DEFENSE FUND STATEMENT
January 27, 2005 ^ FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT ADF MEDIA RELATIONS: (480) 444-0020
ADF dispels misunderstandings about lawsuit against Cupertino Union School District
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.~Some media reports have incorrectly characterized the lawsuit filed on behalf of teacher Stephen Williams against the Cupertino Union School District as challenging a complete ban by the school of the Declaration of Independence from the entire school. That characterization is wrong.
The text of our Nov. 23, 2004, news release on this lawsuit clearly stated that Mr. Williams was prohibited from using the Declaration in his classroom despite having sound academic reasons to do so. Additionally, the actual complaint is a public document and is (and has been) available at our Web site at [.PDF File - Digger].
What is at issue in this lawsuit is not the reputation or general quality of education at Stevens Creek Elementary School, where Mr. Williams teaches. It is the question of whether school officials violated the U.S. Constitution when they placed particular limitations upon Mr. Williams ~and only Mr. Williams~ pertaining to the teaching of his class. This is the question that led to informal efforts to resolve the problem and, when those failed, to court.
After the lawsuit was filed, extensive media coverage and a vigorous public debate developed on the issue. Unfortunately, some people expressed themselves in a hateful, angry manner toward the school and others involved in the controversy. ADF deplores such uncivilized behavior on all fronts: such crude behavior by any person does nothing to further reasoned discussion of the fundamental rights at issue.
We the Parents have responded, thusly:
Cupertino parents request that lawyers' group take further actions to correct mistakes
Cupertino, 2/2/02: We, The Parents, a group of parents at Stevens Creek Elementary issued a statement today regarding the ADF,s response to their Open Letter of last week. The letter requested that the ADF issue a public apology and a retraction of their November 23 press release which falsely stated that the Declaration of Independence had been banned at their school.
The ADF, in a press release on 1/27/05, deny that the Declaration of Independence has been banned from Stevens Creek Elementary. Such a ban was widely reported following the ADF's November 23 press release headlined "Declaration of Independence banned from classroom", but the ADF now describe these reports as a mischaracterization of the truth. They also decry the behavior of those who "expressed themselves in a hateful, angry manner toward the school and others involved in the controversy," which the parent group believes was the direct result of the inflammatory headline of the November 23 statement.
"We truly feel this is a David vs. Goliath kind of a victory! The small mouse squeaked so loud the elephant had to move," said Jean Marie Danielson. "We welcome this first step from ADF to putting the record straight, but still look forward to receiving a public apology for the harm they have caused our school and our children," stated Richard Crouch. "What we have seen so far looks more like an effort to minimize their own legal liability."
ADF still claims in their latest press release that "Mr. Williams was prohibited from using the Declaration in his classroom despite having sound academic reasons to do so." John Bartas, co-founder of the group, responds "that claim sounds ridiculous when you know that the document is printed entirely in the text book used by all fifth grade students and teachers. The lawsuit states that Williams wanted to use was his own 'excerpts', not the complete and original Declaration."
Nathalie Schuler, media relations volunteer for the group, stated that the ADF has blamed the media for misrepresenting their claims and has not taken responsibility for its own actions. "We still see their original misleading and inflammatory press release on their website. Recently the school received another email with a clear call to action, asking Christians, to contact the school and convey their feelings, and to do more than just speak out. This e-mail reproduced the original ADF press release. We think this will continue to happen as long as they don't withdraw it and publicly apologize for misleading the public in the first place."
The group also questions the validity of the claim by the ADF that Williams was singled out by the principal because he is a Christian. "There are other fifth grade teachers at our school who are also Christian and they are not required to turn in lesson plans," explained Larry Woodard, a parent at the school and former supporter of the ADF. "Since the ADF mislead the public on the Declaration ban, what does that say about the credibility of the rest of their claims?" asked Woodard.
The group continues to request a public retraction and apology from the ADF. The full text of the Open Letter to the ADF can be found of the parents website, www.stevenscreekparents.org
Indeed, ADF continues to lie on their website. Even as of today, the headline associated with their November news release still says: "Declaration of Independence Banned from Classroom".