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Online group discusses incident at Parker

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
December 20, 2007
— The case of a Parker High School student who ripped pages from a Bible in class prompted a classmate to create a place on the Internet for students to talk about it.

People who have accounts with the social networking site Facebook and who could access the Parker High School Facebook network were able to join the conversation, most of which centered on free-speech rights.


Sixty-two people were registered as members of the discussion group as of Wednesday.


While some of the comments descended to the level of name-calling and vulgar language, others took the high road. Some quoted philosopher Ayn Rand, Mark Twain, scientist Carl Sagan, the rock bands Rush and Rage Against the Machine.


Here are some excerpts from the more than 70 comments, in chronological order starting Dec. 10:


-- “Just because some Bible thumper kids are pissed off because this guy realizes that the Bible is just a book, he is considered a threat? What the (expletive) is the FIRST AMENDMENT TO THE (expletive) CONSTITUTION FOR!”


-- “Lots of people can come up with the idea, but it takes courage to pull a stunt like this, and determination to fight the repercussions of your actions.”


-- “From what I hear, he went quite a bit overboard. But what he did was not a punishable act; it’s 100 percent protected by free speech, as he was neither inciting anyone to violence nor endangering others through his words.”


-- (From the student who ripped the Bible) “Hurting your feelings? Your beliefs? Pshaw. You should be able to rise above it, or your faith should be strong enough to know that I’m wrong, and what I did should have just rolled off your back.


“Being hostile? I went overboard? Ha! I don’t hate people for adhering to the religion of Christianity, but on the other side of the coin it’s okay for them to hate me. Open your mind a little bit! Read a (expletive) book.”


-- “It’s nice to see people I know interested in something for once, but I think the topic needs to stay more on the fact that (the student) was unduly punished because his point of view did not reflect the masses, because if you just reduce yourself to Christian bashing, you are no better than them.”


-- “You need to forget about it. He deserved what he got. I don’t think you can say that people have small brains because they believe in something that you don’t. … I mean just think WWJD.”


-- (Jesus) would never unjustly punish anyone or deprive a student of his learning for going against the masses. I’m pretty sure Jesus wouldn’t threaten to beat up anybody, either.”


-- “Did I threaten to beat someone up? I think I missed something. Unjustly punishing him would be expelling him or suspending him for the year. He is only missing a couple of days.”


-- “Anyone who heard him in the class would think it was pretty random and crazy. He can think what he wants, but he can’t say it like that. I don’t care what he believes in or doesn’t believe in.”


-- “You can’t insult people for believing in a religion. Especially not at school. His speech was fine until he got to the part were he insulted the people that believed in God. … And by the way, the First Amendment was also about religion, not just freedom of speech.”


-- “What made me mad … was that he called people dumb for believing in God and tried to tell us that eventually we would grow up and lose our faith in God.”


-- “I was in the class. I was unaware that the speech was going to be made. I did not know what was going to happen as he made it and was very concerned. It wasn’t so much what he said, it was in the rash manner that he said it, and it left a lot of people in the class, whether they’ll admit it or not, feeling upset.


“Christianity is a religion. It is a sacred belief, and held close to many people. But, Christianity, like other religions and beliefs, should not be made target and threatened and insulted upon by people who disagree. It’s fine to believe what you’d like, but it’s not all right to shock your way of belief onto others.”


Attorney’s opinion

Selected portions of attorney David Moore’s opinion on the Bible-ripping incident, in which he cited the U.S. Constitution, state law, court rulings, school board policies and the district’s conduct code for students:


-- “Clearly, a student, or any other individual, has a right to speak of his or her faith and, contrary to popular belief, a student has the right to pray in school. In either respect, a student is engaging in his or her right of free expression … as well as engaging in the free exercise of religion.


“On the other hand, if a government employee, including a teacher, engages in proselytizing, or in leading a prayer, the government employee is violating the ‘establishment’ clause of the Amendment.”


-- “Generally, student expression may be suppressed if school officials reasonably conclude that the expression will ‘materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school.’”


-- “I believe that the school may properly discipline the student in question for use of obscene, lewd, profane or vulgar language, regardless of what he did or said in relation to religion. In addition, he may be disciplined to the extent that he engaged in activity which may have constituted negative stereotyping that caused the degrading or the flagrant demeaning of any person or group in the class as a result of a negative reference to religion.”


-- “To frame any discipline in terms of protecting the sanctity of the Bible would constitute a violation of the First Amendment’s ‘establishment clause.’ The same would apply to the destruction of a Koran or any other document regarded as sacred by a religion.”


-- “Simply stated, the student may not be disciplined for ripping up something that is sacred to a religion based on the rationale that the item is sacred. That would place the school district in the impermissible role of making a judgment as to what is sacred.”


-- “For purposes of dealing with a situation of this nature in the future, the (school) board may want to consider creating a policy or adding to existing policies a prohibition of destruction of property on school premises for the purposes of disparaging anther student’s religion, socio-economic status, race, sex, national origin, ancestry, creed, pregnancy, marital or parental status, sexual orientation or physical, mental, emotional or learning disability. If such a policy is designed with the purpose of avoiding both discriminatory acts and unnecessary disturbances, I believe it will pass First Amendment muster because it would be content-neutral and tied directly to the purpose of preserving order in school.”



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