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Barry, I never said that the use of a pro-Obama textbook violates anyone’s First Amendment rights, but it does illustrate the importance of parents reviewing their child’s textbooks, getting involved in electing school board members, and being active at school board meetings.
Public school boards have broad authority to set their curriculum, but they are ultimately answerable to the parents and other citizens that vote for them. Parents who don’t like what is being taught at their child’s public school can express their dissatisfaction through the electoral process and by voicing their concerns at school board meetings.
The pro-Obama textbook situation highlights the importance of maintaining state and local control over public education to ensure that educators are responsive to the values of the local community. For example, the Supreme Court has stated that “the Bible may constitutionally be used in an appropriate study of history, civilization, ethics, comparative religion, or the like,” Stone v. Graham, 449 U.S. 39, 42 (1980), and state and local school boards should have the discretion to offer such courses if they so desire.
As for student assignments, your reference to examples where a student fails to follow directions is a red herring–a student does not have the right to write a poem if the assignment is to write a short story. However, we are frequently contacted in situations where students are allowed to draw a picture of their choice, select a book or song of their choice, etc. where the only objection to the student’s selection is that it is religious.
In the Kansas case, the art assignment was to draw a picture of the student’s choice. No restrictions or specific requirements were provided. After the student chose to draw a cross, the teacher rejected the picture solely because it was religious. The teacher probably believed incorrectly that the “separation of church and state” required him to censor the student’s expression.
Barry, you would agree that the student had the right to incorporate a religious viewpoint in response to this assignment, right?