"These Christian teachers want to bring Jesus into public schools," declares the clickbait headline on the Washington Post's long, winding profile of the Christian Educators Association International.
Read all 2,400 words, and the Post actually provides quite a bit of firsthand information from the organization itself about its purpose and approach.
But up high, the newspaper seems intent on stacking the deck against the Christian Educators Association and making it clear that these teachers are really, really scary.
As in: Run for your politically correct lives!
The piece opens with this three-paragraph, 144-word lede featuring the association's executive director:
Finn Laursen believes millions of American children are no longer learning right from wrong, in part because public schools have been stripped of religion. To repair that frayed moral fabric, Laursen and his colleagues want to bring the light of Jesus Christ into public school classrooms across the country — and they are training teachers to do just that.
The Christian Educators Association International, an organization that sees the nation’s public schools as “the largest single mission field in America,” aims to show Christian teachers how to live their faith — and evangelize in public schools — without running afoul of the Constitution’s prohibition on the government establishing or promoting any particular religion.
“We’re not talking about proselytizing. That would be illegal,” said Laursen, the group’s executive director. “But we’re saying you can do a lot of things. . . . It’s a mission field that you fish in differently.”
How does the Post follow up that opening? By doubling down — literally — against the Christian teachers.
The next seven paragraphs and 288 words explain what's wrong with the organization:
Not everyone agrees that it’s acceptable for teachers to “fish” in public schools, where government officials are not allowed to promote or endorse any particular faith.
The nation has been fighting over the role of religion in public education for more than a century, and in helping public school teachers understand — and push toward — the legal boundaries of expression, Laursen and his colleagues are wading into one of the most fraught issues in American life.
Some advocates say the organization urges teachers to invite Christianity into the classroom in ways that might be unconstitutional and that are bound to make some children — and their parents — uncomfortable.
“They appear to be encouraging teachers to cross the line,” said Daniel Mach of the American Civil Liberties Union, which fought the Christian Educators Association in a 2009 court case over Florida teachers’ religious expression at school. “Decisions about the religious upbringing of children should be left in the hands of parents and families, not public school officials.”
Others say that there would be outrage if teachers of any other faith were being encouraged to express their beliefs in the classroom, legally or otherwise — particularly at a time when anti-
Muslim sentiment is on the rise and some parents have complained that academic lessons about Islam can amount to religious indoctrination.
“What this really amounts to is a privileging of the majority,” said Katherine Stewart, a journalist whose questions about Christianity in her children’s public school led her to write a 2012 book, “The Good News Club,” about evangelical Christians’ efforts to reach students in school. “If a Wiccan, Muslim or Satanist public school teacher were to try to put their sacred texts on their desk . . . they would likely be shut down.”
After the "not everyone agrees" and "some advocates say" transitions, I got to the "others say" paragraph. I expected that — in the story's predictable "he said, she said" structure" — we were at least winding back to someone who would defend the organization.
Nope. I was totally wrong. This "others say" section of this story is not to give the other side a voice via an expert source but to quote a different critic of the organization.
Talk about false balance!
I am curious as to whether the reporter — who obviously spent a bunch of time on this story — wrote it that way or if a Post editor read the original version and decided it needed more signposts up high to show just how flabbergasting this Christian teachers association is.
Strangest of all: As I read the piece, I kept wondering why the story didn't quote the foremost authority (in my opinion) on religion in public schools, Charles Haynes.
Finally, 1,700-plus words into the report — which is roughly three-quarters of the way to the end — the Post got around to Haynes.
And — surprise, surprise — he said positive things about the Christian Educators Association:
Charles C. Haynes, a First Amendment expert at the Newseum Institute’s Religious Freedom Center, gives the Christian Educators Association high marks for its efforts to help teachers understand the law and how it applies to their lives in the classroom.
Many people believe that public schools should be religion-free zones, but that’s simply not the case, Haynes said. While the Constitution says that government cannot establish religion, it also says that the government cannot inhibit religious freedom — a provision that allows students — and to a lesser degree, teachers — to express their faith in school.
“The First Amendment does not exclude religion from public schools,” said Haynes, who co-authored guidelines on religious expression in schools that have been endorsed by dozens of groups from across the political and spiritual spectrum, including the Christian Educators Association. “It gives us the ground rules for how religion comes into public schools.”
As agents of the government, teachers cannot inculcate religion at school, so they cannot lead students in prayer during class. But they also are private citizens with rights to free speech — so they can, for example, pray with students at church on Sunday.
Why bury Haynes' important analysis so deep in the piece? Why not include it up high before many readers have blinked and clicked on a different link?
A couple of other thoughts:
1. Terry Mattingly's post last week on equal access laws in public schools would be helpful to understanding the scenario here:
2. Terms like "fish" and "harvest" are referenced in the Post story in relation to the Christian teachers. Some biblical context on those words would be helpful.
The newspaper does provide some background on the association's "Daniel Weekends":
The trainings are dubbed “Daniel Weekends” for the Old Testament figure who was saved by God after he was thrown into a lion’s den. Daniel was said never to have lost his faith despite decades of exile in Babylon, where he lived among nonbelievers.
As the Christian Educators Association sees it, Christian teachers in public schools are “modern-day Daniels,” working in schools that are hostile to their faith.
However, that summary seems to miss a key point: why Daniel was thrown into the lion's den.
Given the angle of the Post story, the why has relevance, right?