Required Viewing: In God We Teach

As we’ve noted recently, the controversy over religion in public schools did not go away in 1963 when the Supreme Court ruled that school-sponsored devotions violated the First Amendment. 

A new documentary probes a recent case from New Jersey.  As reviewed by Rob Boston on Wall of Separation, the film In God We Teach examines what can happen when an activist teacher meets an activist student.  In this 2006 case, teacher David Paszkiewicz was accused of preaching conservative evangelical Protestantism in class. 

As Boston describes,

David Paszkiewicz told students, “If you reject [Jesus’] gift of salvation, then you know where you belong” and “[Jesus] did everything in his power to make sure that you could go to heaven, so much so that he took your sins on his own body, suffered your pains for you, and he’s saying, ‘Please, accept me, believe.’ If you reject that, you belong in hell.”

Paszkiewicz had also promoted creationism in class, telling students that there were dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark.

A student in the classroom, Matthew LaClair, knew this was inappropriate. He also suspected that school officials would not believe him without evidence, so LaClair began recording portions of the classes. Soon he had solid evidence of Paszkiewicz’s in-class proselytizing.

For ILYBYGTH readers, the most interesting part of the film sounds like the parts in which Paskiewicz is allowed to explain his rationale.  Boston excoriates the teacher.  In Boston’s words,

I was struck by the teacher’s complete and utter inability to engage in any serious form of self-reflection. [Filmmaker Vic] Losick’s technique is to simply let the characters in this drama tell their stories. He doesn’t take a side. But only a theological ally of Paszkiewicz could see him as anything other than a typical smug and arrogant fundamentalist who believes that he has all of the answers – and that this gives him the right to spread his views in public school classrooms.

Paszkiewicz also comes off as disingenuous. At first, he tried to deny having made the “you belong in hell” statement. But LaClair had it on tape, so that failed. Paszkiewicz then fell back on blaming the students. They asked him about religion, you see, so had to talk to them about it. In the documentary, AU’s Lynn handily explains why this is nonsense.

I’m planning to take an hour and four minutes to see for myself.  Losick’s film is available online.  I’ll be interested to see if ILYBYGTH readers agree with Boston’s indictment of Paszkiewicz.