And did THIS violate the seperation of church and state?

I don’t believe the founding fathers were talking about seperating church and state when they wrote the first amendment, but seeing everyone else seems to, try this one on for size:

I went to public school. In the 8th grade I had a shop teacher. We all knew he was very religious, but he didn’t say much about his beliefs. Except one day, after clean up, we had about 15 minutes of class left. The teacher announced that a very good friend of his had come to town and stopped by the school to see him. He introduced his friend to the class. We collectively said “hi”. Then the teacher sat down as his friend started talking religion. He started talking how we all could go to heaven if we repented to Jesus, and that if we didn’t we were all going to hell. He then asked us if we knew what hell would be like. Then he started talking about how much easier our lives will be be if we prayed to God every day. “Pray to him children, pray”. This went on until the bell rang when we all left the room with big question marks over our heads.:confused: “What the hell was that?” By best friend Rob asked. Hey, I was raised rather religiously and that even made me uncomfortable. Nothing ever came of this. The teacher did not get in any trouble what so ever. Should he have?

An important fact is, the teacher never said a word, just sat there as his friend spoke (preached?). And teachers were allowed to have visitors at that school.
Was the teacher guilty of violating the seperation of church and state?

By the way, this is 100% a true story. This really happened!

pkbites said.

He sure was. He intentionally allowed his friend to spread religious propaganda–it doesn’t matter whether he himself said anything or not.

He sure should have.

Weren’t the founding fathers mostly religious men, anyway? Ah, well…

To address the OP… yes, the teacher should have gotten in trouble. Even if he didn’t know in advance that his friend was going to be so preachy, he should have stopped him once his friend started, if you know what I mean. It was his friend, his guest, and he was responsible for him.

(This is my first post on Straight Dope. I gotta say - this is a fantastic site!)

I considered waiting around until someone is willing to give a different opinion, but I strongly believe that the teacher should have faced some sort of consequence for that. It’s my understanding that when a teacher brings in a “guest speaker”, that speaker is just another tool to teach, like a book. Exposing said speaker to the kids for an entire fifteen minutes is, in my opinion, the equivalent of whipping out a bible and forcing all the kids to read it for the same amount of time.

As a side note, many references have been made to the intent of the founding fathers when they wrote the first amendment. Did they intend to specifically make/enforce separation of church and state, were they religious, etc.? And I’d just like to make a quick blanket statement - WHO CARES? Listen, I dig TJ and the boyz as much as anyone, but the Constitution and all of the ideas behind our democracy were founded upon the concept that every man’s opinion is just that - an opinion. For us to immortalize the views of about 40 white guys and constantly ask ourselves “WWTFFD?” (Just in case - “What Would The Founding Fathers Do?” bugs me. We need to stop basing our actions and our society on the moral standards from two hundred years ago that no longer apply in the same way they used to.

I apologize if I didn’t stay on topic. Thanks for readin’!

  • Rog

One more thing just occured to me. Wow, have the guidelines for teachers evolved in the last 50 years or so. Wasn’t so long ago a teacher could smack their kids around, let alone spread the gospel…

Thomas Jefferson is the guy who came up with the concept of a “wall of separation” between church and state. Maybe my history is a little rusty, but I’m pretty sure he was a founding father. :wink:

Welcome to the board Rog668. I agree that we shouldn’t be obsessed the views of the founding fathers on every Constitutional issue. I believe the Founding Fathers intended the Constitution to be a living instrument, capable of being adapted to changing times. That is why they used somewhat vague language. Take the ban on “cruel and unusual punishment.” What constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment?” Why didn’t they just spell out the specific punishments they were banning? Because the mores of society change over time. What might have been an accepted punishment in the past might be “cruel and unusual” under today’s standards.

Oh, Hell yeah (no pun intended). So far no one has disagreed here so it hasn’t turned into a debate yet. But I would point out this: what if this friend had come in and preached Confucianism in an Alabama High School? Not only would he have been censured, he probably would have been pilloried.

Pk, I’m curious as to the geography we’re talking about. Where was your H.S.?

Interesting aside - where I grew up (very small rural town in Maine), the community was predominantly Catholic. While in 4th or 5th grade, I, and the only other non-Catholic student, would go sit in the hall with our study materials while the rest of the class received catechism. This was a Public School circa 1975.

It didn’t concern me much at the time, being only 10 years old, but it struck me later that this was a monumental melding of church and state.


There may be a difference between what he personally believed in and what the framers meant when they wrote the Constitution. It is conceivable that Thomas Jefferson would have made such a separation, had he had enough public support for it. But it is clear from the actions of the founding fathers at the time that they did not intend for that amendment to mean a “wall of separation” between church and state, and it is disingenous to suggest otherwise based on sentiments contained in Jefferson’s private correspondence.

There are some words and concepts, such as “cruel and unusual punishment” that are inherently subjective, and as such, may allow for interpretation. But to ram completely new concepts into the Constitution that were not part of the intention of the writers renders the Constitution almost meaningless. And if, as seems obvious to me, the First Amendment does not call for a separation of Church and State, then implementing such separation on these grounds amounts to judicial legislation.

Since I disagreed in the previous post, I wanted to make sure I checked in here and agreed with the rest of you on this one.

I think the line has to fuzzy, but this incident is WAAAAY overboard.

IzzyR, you seem to have some familiarity with history and with the law. Therefore, I’m sure you are also aware that the founding fathers never intended the Bill of Rights (consisting of the first ten amendmendments to the Constitution) to be an exhaustive list of rights. In fact, there was some opposition to the Bill of Rights on that basis. There was a fear that if the drafters listed a set of rights that it would be misconstrued as an exhaustive list. Therefore they included the 9th Amendment which expressly states:

For more on the history of this amendment click here.

I would argue that, regardless of the wording of the First Amendment, the founding fathers would have recoiled at the notion of public employees (teachers) foisting their religious views upon a captive audience of school children. I think the founding fathers would have agreed that one of the rights “retained by the people” would be the right to choose one’s own path in matters of religion, without the fear of coercion by government employees. Don’t you agree?


Sure. My comments were directed solely at the post that they addressed, not at the OP.

This was in middle school, not high school. It was in West Bend, Wisconsin, a small city of approx. 20,000 at the time (1975). Very Republican town, but few bible thumpers. WB is 34 miles due north of Milwaukee. I would say that was in the top 3 of the strangest things I saw as a kid. That man was very emotional as he preached, to the point of almost (almost!) crying. Really freaked us out. My best friend spent the next 4 years imitating the guy whenever we wanted to have a good laugh.

Right on. Especially with gun laws. When the second amendment was written, the right to bear arms meant you kept a musket over the fireplace (that took forever to reload and was terribly inaccurate). But people these days take it to mean that it’s their right (no, duty) to carry nothing short of a UZI or AK-47 to protect themselves. Whatever.

Actually, the founding fathers were around during the age of enlightenment. Sure they made references to a “Creator”, but many of them were pretty unapolagetically un-religious. Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Patrick Henry made comments in their day which would have got them voted or shamed out today. They were diests.

They believed in a supreme being, but not one that violates natural law. They did not rigidly interpret the Bible, or necessarily believe that Jesus was necessarily divine. Science and salon philosophy drove them.

Elwood: Right back atcha, right on. It amazes me that the second amendment is even considered an ARGUMENT these days in regards to gun control.

If the standard were pocket nukes would some people still think the second amendment protects every shmuck’s right to have one under his pillow?

you cant hold a nuke therefore its not included:)

Actually, asmodean…
In theory, at least, it would be possible to construct a small, hand-held thermonuclear device (use chemical explosives to squeeze radioactive materials into a dense enough mass to cause fission, which in turn drives a fusion reaction).

I mean, all you need, in theory, is the right density, not the right mass. however, the government doesn’t want small bombs, it wants big bombs.

  1. Yes he did violate the separation of church and state.

  2. Regardless of what the many deist FF’s wanted, I think it’s wrong for any church to meddle in government. Period. Churches are based entirely on faith. So each thinks it has the Truth, and almost entirely disagree with one another about that Truth. The government doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) pretend to have the Truth (politicians often do, but compromises downgrade Truth into Workability). Want church in government? Fine, and I want to sacrifice your child to Cthulu. You say I’m wrong? Prove you’re right.

  3. As to the SECOND amendment. I think a handgun or shotgun is reasonable home protection. (deadly, right? Without being too easily capable of mass murder, right?) As for on the street protection, take along a Born Again Christian, he’ll accost and drive away almost ANYONE. :slight_smile:

I had an experience similar to the one described in the OP, in my 12th grade Government class. The only difference was, it wasn’t about promoting a religion, it was about promoting a controversial stance on abortion.

Abortion, being a hot-button topic, certainly merits discussion in a class on American Government. So, our teacher brought in someone who showed a short movie about abortion. The situation quickly degenerated:
[li]The person showing the movie was a priest or minister.[/li][li]The movie was called Assignment: Life.[/li][li]The movie very quickly devolved into anti-abortion propaganda. The teacher did not intervene and try to stop the movie when this became obvious. (I guess if he could “ignore” a priest and a title like “Assignment: Life,” he would have no problem turning a blind eye to the movie itself.)[/li][li]The teacher didn’t even intervene when the movie started showing really sickening footage of abortions being performed. The first abortion had an allegedly “unconscious” woman screaming and shaking madly as a doctor vacuumed the small foetus from her uterus.[/li][li]I got up and left when the movie threatened to show me a saline abortion.[/li][/ul]
Needless to say, our teacher turned out to be strongly anti-abortion. And to this day I can’t help feeling that he knew exactly what he was doing by showing us that film.

It rattles my noggin at the incessant attempts of religion, specifically christianity in this country, to finagle their way into our school systems. This has been repeatedly knocked down by the Supreme Court of the United States as unconstitutional. Yet even now there is a case being brought by the ACLU and others to prevent the display of the Ten Commandments in schools in both Kentucky and Indiana. Those states are trying to manage this via some fancy footwork by saying the Ten Commandments is educational and will be displayed along with The Declaration of Independence and other documents. The legal opinions I’ve heard so far believe that this won’t wash either and will be tossed out by the courts.

To help clear up the confusion I see here on the “separation of church and state” concept see the following quotes from the Supreme Court case School District of Abington Township, Pennsylvania v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963). There are, of course, a bunch of other decisions regarding this but this case has enough of the court’s opinion from all cases to apply. The Majority Opinion was written by Justice Clark. All of the quotes below were pulled from the following site:
(Highlighting done by me to enhance salient points)

Some more detail follows…

Religion is especially kept out of schools because the students may be deemed a captive audience. Attempts by some school districts to say that students who wish to opt out of prayer sessions and what not have also been rejected by the courts. Kids strive fro homogenization…they want to fit in. The court feels it is too much to expect to have the (let’s say) one Hindu kid to bolt from the room everytime a christian prayer is said. Rare is the child who embraces his or her differences in the face of being ostracized by his or her peers.

In answer to our FF’s being religious folk the court had this to say about it…