Separation does not mean destruction

My son came home from public school the other day complaining that one of his teachers used a history lesson as an opportunity to launch into a short speech about how Obama was going to bring peace to the world.  (Which is true, if you accept that, as Charles Krauthammar points out, Obama is going to go one better than the Romans.  While they made a desert on someone else’s soil and called it piece, Obama seems intent on turning America itself into the peaceful desert.)  I very politely complained about this manifest breach of propriety on the part of a public school teacher.  The administration received my complaint equally politely.  I don’t know if the school did anything, but I do know that the teacher is still there — which is okay, since his infraction (the first that I know of) deserved only a warning.

I mention this bland little episode to contrast it with the experience of two students who made the mistake at a public college of sitting in a teacher’s private office and offering a prayer for her good health.  Please understand here that it was not the school that was imposing religion on students.  Nor were the students proselytizing in a public forum.  Still, what they did sent the administration at the College of Alameda over the edge:

The students, Kandy Kyriacou and Ojoma Omaga, said college officials at first told them they were being suspended for “disruptive behavior,” then held disciplinary hearings and sent them letters warning that they would be punished if they prayed in a teacher’s office again.


The case dates from the fall of 2007, when Kyriacou and Omaga were studying fashion design and merchandising at the two-year college and took breaks from class to pray with each other and other students on a balcony, according to their suit.

Kyriacou prayed with the teacher, Sharon Bell, at an office Bell shared with other teachers, on two occasions in November and December 2007. The second time, a day when Bell was feeling ill, another teacher entered the office and told Kyriacou, “You can’t be doing that in here,” and the student stopped praying and left, the suit said.

Kyriacou and Omaga received suspension notices 10 days later. Omaga was accused of praying disruptively in class, Illston said, citing testimony at the students’ disciplinary hearings.

Apparently like so many organizations manned by Progressives, the administration believes that the First Amendment ban against government making a law “respecting an establishment of religion” means that government must destroy all forms of religious expression.  This misinterpretation — from educators, yet! — is especially appalling given that the very next clause in the First Amendment makes it very clear that the government cannot interfere with the “free exercise” of religion.

Kyriacou and Omaga have sued, although their demands have been restrained.  Barring a request to be compensated for attorney’s fees, they seek only an “acknowledgment of their rights, an apology and removal of all disciplinary action.”  The local federal, showing much more good sense than I would have expected from a judge sitting in the Ninth Circuit, has ruled that the plaintiffs can proceed with their suit:

In seeking dismissal of the suit, lawyers for the Peralta Community College District argued that the school was entitled to designate faculty offices as “places for teaching and learning and working,” and not for “protests, demonstrations, prayer or other activities” that would be disruptive.

The students countered that they were being punished for the content of their speech, not its disruptiveness.

Illston said the students could try to prove that the school treated religious expression more harshly than other speech.