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For 23 years, I have been a public school teacher. Yet, never once have I shared my religious affiliation nor religious beliefs with my class, nor with a single student for that matter.  

With very rare exceptions, I never recall a teacher crossing that line while I was a child either. It would have been inappropriate for them to do so in a public school. Why? Because our public school system is paid for with tax money from a free public. 

As a teacher, I have never promoted prayer, and I have never disparaged it. Whenever students broach the topic of religious belief in class, I always offer a similar response: My job is to give students facts so that they can use their brain, their heart, and their families’ beliefs to form judgments and opinions. Every school teacher I know understands this as their role, despite what any TV pundits or former president’s sons like to say. 

Yet, in two landmark rulings the US Supreme Court turned the clock back on public school freedoms. The US Supreme Court has somehow decided that public school dollars can be spent on religious programs and that public schools can be places where staff or students may have personal and private religious moments – like on the 50-yard line of a high school football game. 

How? Because five devout Christians now outnumber four other Supreme Court justices tasked to interpret the constitution for a supposed free and fair society. 

On the heels of a week where the same five justices overturned the 50-year right for a woman to choose, and we saw compelling evidence that government officials attempted to overturn a free and fair election, we now have two more fundamental educational rights of our society gone. The first is that your taxes can now be used for religious purposes. Secondly, that prayer and religious ideology in taxpayer-funded schools now have the Supreme Court’s approval.

But what is the big deal? With the Supreme Court’s ruling, the coach in question was simply having a “private” and “personal” prayer while on the job. And a few schools in Maine can’t be excluded from receiving money for religious education. Big deal, right?


Because although I’ve never mentioned it to my students in all my 23 years, I’m comfortable now sharing with you that I have divine proof that the end of the world will come before any of my students graduate. You see, I handle snakes in my church, and I believe that snake handling allows me to talk to the divine. Importantly God has told me that your kids won’t need a great education because, during the apocalypse, skills like writing and math won’t matter much.

You may have concerns, but please don’t. I will keep my private and personal prayer sessions to myself (and to my snakes) throughout my work day. I’ll be private and personal on the blacktop while the kids play around my snakes and me. If kids want to join me, at recess for example, or during their lunch, why they certainly can. I won’t pressure anyone. Honest. If some do come, I may share how I handle these snakes and share the words they whisper to me about how I should best live my life and how they should too. I’ll keep that all private and personal, though. I promise. Besides, I won’t be here long. I plan to open a snake handling school, you see. It will be a taxpayer-funded snake handling religious school, so you don’t have to attend if you don’t want to.

But you may have to pay for it.

And just a heads up, I may want tax dollars to teach a slightly less known version of intelligent design. Because my church believes that aliens from a distant planet were the true designers. I may also, like Accelerated Christian Education or ACE,  teach that  dinosaurs and humans co-existed and that the loch ness monster disproves evolution. I may want to bring my three wives to pray with me in a personal moment during a school event, leading them with a firm hand. I might want tax dollars to teach that God made the earth roughly seven thousand years  ago or flat under a dome or that God provided North America as a place for the Protestant religion. I might want tax dollars to buy snakes for divinity class, and I may not allow women to teach  because they are not supposed to interpret the Bible for a man. I might want to teach that Trump has been sent from heaven to save our planet, or that the world will simply end soon, or any other thing I say I believe. 

And if you disagree to any of these areas of my curriculum, you may have to send me your tax dollars anyway. As Justice Gorsuch recently wrote, “Bureaucratic efforts to ‘subject’ religious beliefs to ‘verification’ have no place in a free society.”  And once church and state are no longer separate, my belief won’t need verification as long as I say it’s religious.

So you won’t be able to subject me to it, will you?

That is, if I was serious. 

And perhaps now that we can see the absurdity of where these new decisions could lead us, we can also see that the recent US Supreme Court decisions are wrong. Because whether I am a Christian, or not, or a snake handling prophet, or not, or even religious or not,  whether I just need a prayer minute on the 50 yard line, or a few bucks to teach a prayer circle at the local high school, it is not my right to bring religion into my taxpayer funded public school, nor is it my right to use taxpayer money to fund a Christian theocracy. 

Because our nation is not a Christian theocracy, nor any theocracy. It’s a free democracy that is supposed to afford its people the right and freedom of religion, not to mention a host of other rights that another person’s belief system cannot infringe upon. 

And thank God for that.

But, If we educators don’t speak up about keeping that right for our students, for ourselves, for our schools, for all of us,  I fear we’ll have the devil to pay soon.

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Thomas Courtney is a senior policy fellow with Teach Plus, a member of Edsource's Advisory Committee,...

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  1. Well done, Mr. Courtney. With just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek tone, you’ve identified the frightening situation before us. May somebody’s god help us all.

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