For Heaven's Sake, Don't Mention God! in a Case of "Turnabout Is Fair Play," Stephen Williams, a History Teacher, Is Suing a School District Because the School District Won't Let Him Mention God in His Lessons

Article excerpt

In the latest attempt to eradicate all public mention of Christianity, the principal of Stevens Creek School (of the Cupertino Union School District in California) has prohibited a teacher, Stephen Williams, from distributing historical documents to his fifth-grade history class, on the grounds that they contain references to God.

Was Williams distributing potentially controversial documents? Hardly. Among the documents deemed inappropriately religious by school principal Patricia Vidmar are excerpts from the following:

* the Declaration of Independence;

* diaries and journals of John Adams and George Washington;

* writings of William Penn;

* several state constitutions;

* "The Rights of the Colonists" by Samuel Adams; and

* a handout entitled "Fact Sheet: Currency and Coins--A History of 'In God We Trust.'"

It's not like Williams doesn't use any other materials in supplementing the fifth-grade history text. In fact, only about five percent of his supplemental handouts contain references to God or Christianity. But in May of 2004, Vidmar began requiring Williams to submit to her all of his lesson plans and supplemental handouts for review in advance of his using such plans and handouts. According to Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) spokesman Greg Scott, Williams is the only current Stevens Creek teacher to be required to submit his materials for review.

Since that time, Vidmar has systematically rejected proposed lesson plans and handouts that contain references to God or Christianity. The ADF, a religious-liberties public-interest legal group, has filed suit on behalf of Williams. According to the ADF, Vidmar is apparently singling Williams out as a "known Christian," since other teachers in the school are allowed to show films and distribute handouts containing references to God.

Williams takes his teaching job seriously and wants to ensure that his students understand the period of history that they are studying. To do so, he uses supplemental materials that underline and expand on the material covered in the textbook. In fact, the textbook chosen by the school district, A New Nation: Adventures in Time and Place, does not meet either the state's or the school district's education standards about what is to be taught and, therefore, requires the use of additional materials. Also, California state law allows references to religion when such references "are incidental to or illustrative of matters properly included in the course of study." And before quashing an Easter-related assignment in which Williams assigned students to read a section of the Bible's Book of Luke, the school had allowed him to teach lessons about other religious observances, including Ramadan and Diwali (the Indian religious celebration better known as the "festival of lights"). Like the previous assignments, Williams was putting the Easter lesson in its cultural context.

"I'm very impressed by the depth he goes to teach history, and the documents he provides. He doesn't underestimate his students," says Scott. In Scott's opinion, Vidmar's apparent vendetta is preventing Williams from being the best teacher he can be. ADF Senior Counsel Gary McCaleb says: "The district is simply attempting to cleanse all references to the Christian religion from our nation's history. …