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I am disappointed in your coverage of the recent events at the Cesar Chavez School in your article “Satan’s School for Kids” (6/23). By focusing on the speaker’s demeanor, and some of the students’ being put off by it, you missed the far more significant story. As I told your reporter, several administrators of this public school knowingly decided to violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment in their official capacity as federal employees. By sending home a permission slip for one religious speaker, and not others, they were clearly discriminating against that one religion and establishing the other religions as more legitimate.
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I say “knowingly” because I made a point of warning these administrators before they sent home the letter. None disputed the illegality of the action, but they had a disquietingly cavalier attitude to constitutional considerations. Many apparently felt themselves to be above the law, if breaking it would prevent them having to experience the personal discomfort of dealing with angry parents. For Randy Littlefield to portray the permission slip as being merely “overcommunication” or routine, after he had been informed that it was unconstitutional, is disingenuous, at the least.
Irasema Salcido’s delusional fear that irate parents would actually attempt to physically prevent the speaker from presenting does not justify this transgression, either. If such zealotry did exist among the parents, it is unlikely that a permission slip would assuage it. She asks rhetorically, “[W]hy wouldn’t you try to prevent that if you could?” The answer, of course, is that the Constitution prevents such discrimination. If her standard were valid—that one can ignore constitutional considerations in the face of angry parents—then Southern schools would never have been integrated.
As to Charles Haynes’ statements, it is chilling that the Freedom Forum seemingly believes that a religion’s protections under the First Amendment are dependent on the numerical size of its congregation. Finally, your reporter’s describing my attempt to be as inclusive as possible in a federally funded public school’s handling of religion as causing an “unnecessary skirmish” is truly disturbing. Thank goodness the Supreme Court, with its recent ruling striking down a similar disclaimer in the teaching of evolution, disagrees with both you and the administration of the Cesar Chavez School. Some skirmishes are absolutely necessary, and, far from being disruptive to students’ education, are instrumental in it, particularly at a school that purports to teach public policy.
World History Instructor
Cesar Chavez Charter Public High
School for Public Policy