Yesterday’s Des Moines Register reports that teacher Dale Halferty told a student that he could not build a Wiccan altar in shop class. While he could build a table that he could later use as part of an altar, Halferty told the student that he needed to keep all religious materials at home. However the student kept returning with a book on witchcraft. Halferty says he does not want any religious symbols in the shop, and previously told another student he could not build a cross in class. Almost 70 students have signed a petition saying they do not want witchcraft practiced in school. Halferty agreed, saying: “It scares me. I’m a Christian. This witchcraft stuff – it’s terrible for our kids. It takes kids away from what they know, and leads them to a dark and violent life.”
The teacher does not come across as very sympathetic, and clearly has a religious bias against the student in question. However, it may not be as cut and dry as it seems. From the Des Moines Register:
Halferty said he previously told another student he could not build a cross in shop class because he believes in the separation of church and state. “I don’t want any religious symbols in the shop,” he said.
I didn’t take shop in high school, but I took a jewelry class. In it, my teacher also prohibited making projects with religious or even political symbols on them. In my case there was a loophole, though — we were allowed to do extra projects beyond given assignments, and those projects could feature whatever symbols we wanted (I made my mom a nice cross necklace, and a ring with a peace sign on it for a friend). It was just that you could not include such symbols on a project intended for a grade. Since we paid for our own materials for extra projects, we could do what we wanted.
[Halferty’s] viewpoint: “We as Christians don’t get to have our say during school time, so why should he?”School officials say Christians actually do get to express themselves in the same way.
More than one school policy, as well as state and federal law, prohibit discrimination against students who express religious beliefs through school assignments.
Oops. If there is a specific school policy against preventing students from expression of religious belief in school projects, I think that the teacher’s case has just weakened. In fact, I’d say that student who was prohibited from making a cross may have a case as well.