KATY, Texas (Christian Examiner) – A scathing letting from an athetist organization recently accused students and parents who complained about an assignment of being "willfully ignorant" of facts and suggested a 12-year-old student was being less than honest when she complained to her school board about the assignment she believed denigrated her faith.
On Oct. 27, Jordan Wooley spoke before the Katy, Texas, school board, telling of how she was asked in one of her 7th grade classes whether the statement "there is a God" is fact, assertion or opinion.
As a Christian, she immediately wanted to choose "fact," she said. If she did, however, she was told she would fail the assignment.
"Our teacher started off by saying the assignment had been giving problems all day, and we were asked to take a poll if God was a fact, opinion or a myth. She told anyone who said, 'a fact' or 'opinion,' that was wrong that God is only a myth," Wooley said.
Wooley said she offered the Bible and recent near-death experiences as proof, but he teacher reportedly told her "both were just things people were doing to get attention."
She still said God was "fact." She said she was not alone.
Wooley said her friends were upset and one was crying. Her friend turned in her paper, stating God was "fact" and the teacher "crossed the answer out several times, telling her that it was completely wrong." Another child slammed her books on the floor in protest, angering the teacher, she said.
"I felt like this was really wrong and I didn't feel like it was fair for my faith and my religion to have anything to do with what I'm learning in school," Wooley said. "I had known before that it – I know that our schools are not supposed to teach us much about religion or question anything about religion, and when I tried to talk to my teacher about, she said, 'It doesn't have anything to do with religion because the problem says there is no God.'"
During the school board meeting, district administrators were careful not to mention the school's name or the name of the teacher. Instead, administrators cited a "resolution process" to deal with the controversy. The school was later identified as West Memorial Junior High. The teacher has still not been identified.
Two days after the meeting, the district's Superintendent Alton Frailey issued a statement, saying that "as a life-long Christian" he was very concerned about Wooley's perception that her faith had been challenged.
"No student in Katy ISD is to ever have their faith denounced. No student should ever be forced or threatened with a failing grade for not denouncing his or her faith. I will not tolerate that at all. That's just not going to happen here. That's not our Katy community. That's not our school district. That's not who we are," Frailey said.
Frailey said he and the board regretted that Wooley and other students felt threatened because of their faith. He said, however, that after researching the incident and publishing the findings of the investigation, he was certain "the teacher's activity and interaction with students was never ill-intended or designed to denounce anyone's beliefs or admonish anyone for their faith. However, we know and fully agree that an item included in the activity worksheet was inappropriate and wrong. For that, we sincerely apologize."
According to the findings of the investigation, no students admitted to crying over the assignment. The findings also claim that the assignment was not intended for grading, and no student was instructed to deny God's existence.
"The statements of students interviewed support that the teacher asked if that statement was a fact, opinion or commonplace assertion. The teacher then asked the students to raise their hands to indicate their response. According to the teacher and students, the teacher also explained that there are different cultures, religions and views. She explained that a commonplace assertion exists when there is room for debate. In the teacher's eighth period, students did engage in an academic debate on the topic," the findings said.
Several parents, however, came forward indicating their children also told them about the assignment and said the teacher gave every indication it would be graded. They also said the children were instructed to call God a "myth."
Even though the school district cleared the teacher of wrongdoing, the assignment was "ill-conceived," Frailey said.
That statement, however, raised the hackles of the the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), the litigious Wisconsin-based atheist group claiming to be a free thought "state/church watchdog."
In a letter to Frailey, FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker wrote that Wooley had exaggerated when she spoke before the school board.
"It is a pity that confused thinking and thin skins by some believing students and their parents can rule the day at your junior high school," Gaylor and Barker wrote. "The exaggerated fallout from this exercise clearly demonstrates the great need for more, not less, instruction on critical thinking skills. It should not be verboten or controversial to ask students to assess whether a claim is factual. It is this kind of 'head in the sand' attitude that accounts for the deplorable state of science understanding in our nation—including the fact that about half of all adults reject evolution, which is a fact. The United States cannot compete on a global market when its population is willfully ignorant."
"It appears this young student expected the teacher to profess that God is a fact," the letter from FFRF said.
FFRF also took the opportunity to school Christians on what the term "faith" actually means. In the letter, Gaylor and Barker wrote, "famous passages from the bible [sic] as well as many denominational doctrines would agree with this teacher's categorization that God is not taken on fact and evidence. 'Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen' — Hebrews 11:1"
The letter also contained quotes from Martin Luther and the Apostles' Creed.
FFRF also took the opportunity to chastise Frailey for stepping "close to the church/state line when he proclaimed in his statement that he is 'a life-long Christian' ... This veers perilously close to conceding that to have standing in your community, at least on this issue, you have to be a professed Christian."
There is, however, no constitutional prohibition on public officials at any level of government identifying themselves publicly as a member of any faith group.