Public school teachers have no constitutional obligation to allow students to present religious messages to their classmates as part of their classroom work, a federal district court has held.
U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Rodriguez ruled Dec. 30 that Grace Oliva, a first grade teacher in Medford, N.J., acted correctly when she refused to let Zachary Hood read aloud from The Beginner's Bible.
Students in Oliva's class were rewarded for reading skills by being allowed to bring a book and read it to the class. Finding a religious work inappropriate for a religiously diverse public school classroom, she asked the student to read it to her privately.
Hood's mother Carol sued the school district and state education officials, with assistance from the Rutherford Institute, a Charlottesville, Va.-based Religious Right legal group.
Rodriguez was unimpressed by the claim. The teacher "properly exercised her editorial control over the students' reading selections to ensure the material was appropriate for their educational level," he observed. He noted that impressionable first graders might easily assume that the teacher approved of the religious literature if she allowed the student to read it.
The judge rejected a claim by Hood's attorneys that the teacher's action violated Zachary's free speech rights and free exercise of religion and established a "religion of secularism."
Noting that a classroom is not an "open forum," Rodriguez observed, "Public schools are not hostile to religion. Any student who wishes to say grace over lunch or appeal for divine intervention during a test has that right. Students also are not precluded from expressing …