Bible Bullying and the Borders of Fiction

Is the Bible nonfiction?  Can public-school teachers call it fiction?  More important, can a teacher poke fun at a student who considers the Bible nonfiction?

Those questions are at the heart of a new lawsuit from Temecula, California.

According to The Christian Post, a middle-school teacher asked students to bring in a nonfiction book to read.  When one student pulled out a Bible, the teacher objected.  Worst of all, according to The Post, the teacher ridiculed the student for considering the book nonfiction.

An activist legal group, Advocates for Faith and Freedom, has sued the school district.  The Christian legal group wants the school district to add teachers to its bullying policy.

According to AFF President Robert Tyler, the teacher’s actions in this case represent just the tip of the anti-Christian iceberg.

In an interview with the Christian News Network, Tyler denounced public-school teachers’ tendency to bully Christian students.  “These days,” Tyler said,

there is no shortage of bullying against Christian students by teachers.  If a teacher were to take the same tone and tactic against a homosexual student based on the student’s sexual orientation, the teacher would be subjected to serious and significant discipline. But for some reason, these teachers feel that they have the ability to engage in this type of hostility and attempt to humiliate Christian students.

The exact boundaries of religious expression for public-school students have long been tricky to figure out.  Can self-funded cheerleaders display Bible messages at public-school football games?  Can students wear religious t-shirts?

But this case raises different questions, too.  Can teachers be bullies?  Can school districts use their existing anti-bullying policies to discipline teachers?

It seems like a difficult proposition.  After all, teachers in most schools have an explicit duty to manage the behavior of their students.  It would be bullying, in many cases, for one student to make another student quiet down.  But if a teacher makes a student quiet down, isn’t that just classroom management?

Couldn’t the Advocates for Faith and Freedom make a simpler argument?  Teachers certainly should not belittle students for their religious beliefs.  Why should the school district have to call it “bullying?”