Wrestling with religion

Marsha Sutton
Marsha Sutton

By Marsha Sutton

Feedback from a story in the June 9 issue of this newspaper disputed the charges made by the president of the Western Center for Law & Policy that the San Dieguito Union High School District discriminates against Christian students.

One woman wrote, “It is absolutely beyond the pale to suggest that somehow there exists an anti-Christian bias in the district.” She cited several instances of one San Dieguito middle school in Encinitas “absolutely bending over backwards to accommodate district Christians.”

This parent, who insisted on anonymity, said her child’s seventh-grade science lessons on evolution were incomplete at best, skewed to marginalize Charles Darwin at worst. She was agitated that one science teacher claimed the district “prohibits” the teaching of evolution as a proven and widely accepted scientific theory.

District officials contest this, saying no such prohibition even remotely exists. And certainly it does not. But individual teachers, department heads or principals, on their own, may have deferred on more than one occasion to vocal factions with the monetary means and legal skills to twist arms and push personal agendas behind the scenes.

In another example, a reader claimed that school clubs favoring Christian students were supported by Associated Student Body money, and that advisers of these clubs were often fervent Christian teachers who intimidated less religious students unwittingly enticed to the lunchtime meetings with free pizza and snacks.

The district responded by saying these extra-curricular problems may have existed in the past, but standards now in place bar any favoritism, perceived or otherwise, of one religion over any other.

Add to this pro-Christian/anti-Christian debate the ongoing controversy over the language in SDUHSD history textbooks that some claim unfairly and inaccurately favors Islam, and one wonders how district officials, pulled off-course at every turn by special interests representing narrow perspectives, are managing to maintain equilibrium. Appeasing all sides is a Herculean task.

Book banning

Religious challenges to public schools come in all shapes and sizes. A few parents in the Del Mar Union School District at Ocean Air School this past spring objected to the required reading of a fifth-grade historical novel titled “My Brother Sam is Dead.”

Based on religious grounds, one parent wanted the book banned because it used such phrases as “son of a bitch,” “Jesus” as a swear word, and “God damn.”

I was intrigued enough to read the book, which is a first-person account narrated by a young boy living in Connecticut whose family is caught up in the Revolutionary War. It’s a powerful tale that incorporates historical facts into the fictional lives of young Tim Meeker and his older brother Sam who joined the American forces to fight the British.

At one point, Tim says to his brother, “Jesus, Sam, Jesus, they’re down there and they’re going to kill father …” Then on the same page Tim calls his brother a son of a bitch. Throw in a handful of “Goddamns” and that’s about all you’ve got.

“We might as well have a South Park episode teach them about the colonial times,” this parent said about the book.

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