4-1 vote halts development of Spencer's religious liberty policy

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Spencer school district's proposed religious liberty policy is no longer a priority. In a 4-to-1 vote this week, school board members approved not pursuing its development.

Superintendent Greg Ebeling began Tuesday night's discussion by stating, "My bottom line is I don't want to spend a lot more time on this without direction from the board that this is what we need to do, because otherwise I'm wasting time."

Bill Zinn, who was elected to the board in September, initiated the ensuing board discussion by saying, "Most people have contacted me saying it shouldn't be in the schools."

"I'm quite the opposite. I've had many comments for it and a few against," Dean Mechler offered.

"From the feedback I've received, the majority of it has been against it. Not necessarily on a substantive view, but, basically, (from a) is this necessary kind of a viewpoint," Todd Korbitz, the board's president, added. "Although I have had some comments in favor of it, ... I, personally, sit with the is it necessary crowd."

A motion to continue pursuing the proposed policy's development died for lack of a second.

When the motion to discontinue the pursuit of a religious liberty policy received a second, Mechler asked his peers around the board table, "Why wouldn't we want to acknowledge the constitutional rights of students and staff members when we do it in so many other areas? That's really all the policy does. The policy, as it's written now, is largely pieced from current policies that affect other school districts."

"My more conservative nature, to be honest, doesn't like bureaucracy. And, I think the more layers of rulemaking you implement, the more mushy any kind of authority becomes. And, to me, it seems like this issue is dealt with in higher forms of law," Korbitz answered. " ... I just wonder if this is the correct tact to take as a district."

"When I have former students come to me and current teachers saying, 'I'm intimidated. I don't know what I can do and what I can't do,' let's acknowledge what they can and can't do," Mechler said. "I think that's all the policy does."

As newly-elected board member Bob Whittenburg suggested there are issues with the policy's second draft, he then said, "This is a discussion about whether we refine that draft again and what those issues are. I think that process could go on and on, and I fail to see yet what the need is."

Marti Bomgaars then proposed a statement saying the district supports what is protected under the U.S. Constitution be drafted instead of a religious liberty policy. "(In dealing) with people who feel their rights have been violated, then we can at least say, 'Look, we are operating in line with what we've been taught,'" she said.

Following the board's vote to discontinue the pursuit of a religious liberty policy, Ebeling forewarned, "At some point in time, the district will be dealing with this issue."

After Tuesday's meeting, he continued, "Right now, there's not support with the board to move forward with the policy. So, it will just remain on hold for the foreseeable future, or until we have something that we need to deal with. Obviously, it will still be a policy that will live on my computer -- because there's been a lot of time and effort put into it. But, it's a matter of the board right now not feeling like it's wanting to move forward any further with the policy. So, it's going to die for now. But, I still believe that at some point in time the district will be faced with an issue regarding religious liberties and it may have to be taken up again."

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  • I am pleased that the new school board had the wisdom to allow this issue to die. The rights of students are already protected under the US Constitution and do not need to be spelled out in an official school policy. The original intent of the policy, as was clearly evident from the first draft, was to force christianity into the public schools, not to protect the religious liberties of anyone. Regarding the second draft, contrary to Mr. Mechler's assertions, the acknoweldgement of constitutional protections was not "really all the policy does". That policy was willing to sacrifice the dignity of graduation ceremonies in the hopes that christian prayer or preaching might be included. Kudos to the board.

    -- Posted by DaveMunson on Thu, Oct 29, 2009, at 5:01 AM
  • Too bad for Spencer students, they lose the opportunity to learn about all religions and how they effect the worldview today. With a global economy, it's important to know the cultures of the people we do business with. Those with tunnel vision that believe the agenda was to push Christianity are sadly wrong. I took a World Religions class in a state funded college, and all religions were tought with equal emphasis. I wonder why this was not a disputed issue?

    -- Posted by Culture Warrior on Fri, Oct 30, 2009, at 5:37 PM
  • Warrior, you are the one sadly mistaken (on many accounts). First, the defeat of this poorly written and conceived policy does nothing to prevent the teaching of world religions at SHS. This issue has been clearly decided by the Supreme Court and whether there is a policy or not, this is permissible. Second, there is a distinct difference between courses offered at various levels of education. The fact that you had a world religions course at college has nothing to do with the high school. By your logic we should offer calculus at the elementary schools because it is taught at the high school. Lastly, if you read the first draft of the policy, it was clearly evident that its sole intent was to force christianity into the public schools. The second draft had the same attempt, but it was better hidden.

    -- Posted by DaveMunson on Sat, Oct 31, 2009, at 9:18 AM
  • Yea!

    -- Posted by communicate on Sun, Nov 1, 2009, at 1:22 AM
  • So, iowaskeptic, you would not be opposed to a world religions course taught in the Spencer Schools where Christainity would be given equal time? Also, you misunderstood my "logic", I agree, calculus would be inapropriate for elementary children, my point was that state funded colleges seem to be able to teach religion courses without fear of reprisal. Why can't our High Schools?

    -- Posted by Culture Warrior on Sun, Nov 1, 2009, at 7:54 PM
  • I don't know why Spencer always tries to blur the lines.

    The seperation of church and state is a beautiful concept, why do we have to be the one school to muck with it?

    It's kind-of like I would absolutely LOVE to have a bipartisan media outlet in town, but that's an issue for another day.

    -- Posted by ADAMHARRIS on Mon, Nov 2, 2009, at 3:20 AM
  • Warrior, our schools can teach about world religions without fear of reprisals (in fact that is part of their World Areas course). Regarding a separate course; with the almost yearly budget cuts and staff reductions it is probably not feasible to offer an additional elective course at this time. It would also be necessary to ensure that such a course remains purely academic and does not promote any one religion. This is probably easier to achieve in a university where professors of such a class would be hired based on their academic credentials in that area. Here is Spencer the course would be taught by whomever had an open slot in his/her schedule.

    -- Posted by DaveMunson on Mon, Nov 2, 2009, at 4:56 PM
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