Thou Shalt Not
Eastside Public School Violates Separation of Church and State, Issues Religious Commandments to Preschoolers
In a headline ruling this week, the United States Supreme Court said that two rural Kentucky courthouses could not hang framed copies of the Ten Commandments inside government property. The court found that displaying the religious document amounted to an endorsement of religion, a constitutional no-no.
Hopefully the Lake Washington School District will get the message. As The Stranger has reported, the Lake Washington School District has been blurring that sacred line quite a bit lately. In the latest instance, on June 2, school officials handed out a "ten commandments" creed to parents of graduating students at the Little Roos preschool, a program run by the public school district.
While the preschool's "ten commandments," printed in the graduation program alongside a smiling kangaroo logo, aren't the ones from the Bible, they're still religiously loaded. Called "A Child's Ten Commandments to Parents," the list offers parenting advice coupled with several "commandments" with Christian undertones or overt religious references. For example, "I am a special gift from God, so please treasure me," the fifth commandment says. The ninth commandment dictates, "Please take me to church regularly and set a good example for me to follow." The tenth commandment avoids crossing the religious line, but presumes that kids live in nuclear families headed up by a married couple, as it encourages parents to "leave for a weekend together" to "show kids that your marriage is very special."
The "Child's Ten Commandments"—which have made the rounds of "traditional" parenting sites—is often credited to Dr. Kevin Leman, a Christian psychologist and author who runs realFamilies, a "Biblically based parenting, marriage, and personal advice" nonprofit organization.
The graduation program angered at least one parent. "I know my daughter is a gift, but not from some Christian version of God; I'm an atheist," the parent, whose daughter will start kindergarten this fall, told The Stranger anonymously. "It used to be that if you wanted your child to have an education in a Christian environment, you sent them to private school. If this trend continues, pretty soon you will have to send them to private school to obtain a secular education."
Unfortunately, the troubling graduation program isn't surprising coming from the Lake Washington School District. It's the same district that rents Lake Washington High School to the evangelical Antioch Bible Church every Sunday, and the same district that uses religious volunteers to teach abstinence-only until marriage—two issues that have garnered plenty of criticism from parents, teachers, and the community recently. When Eastside mom Jessica Grady asked to sit in on the abstinence-only lecture, it was health teacher Heather Finerty—also a Little Roos teacher—who sidestepped her request. Grady was ultimately denied access to the classroom ["Parental Dissent," Amy Jenniges, May 26].
"We appreciate the general values this material includes, but are concerned over specific words that could be construed as promoting a specific religion," says Kathryn Reith, the district's director of communications. "And we're also very concerned that community members felt uncomfortable at an event at one of our schools. We're looking into what happened." Little Roos' director, Vicki Bundy, and teachers are on summer vacation, and were unavailable for comment by press time.
While a few lines in a preschool graduation program may not seem like a big deal, the program may violate the state's constitution, the ACLU says. "Telling parents to take their kids to church is inappropriate," says the ACLU's local spokesperson, Doug Honig. "Just as telling parents to take their kids to synagogue, mosque, or ashram, or not to take them to one of these places, would be inappropriate."
Honig, grabbing a copy of the Washington State constitution, cites two Articles: "'No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction, or the support of any religious establishment.' [And] 'all schools maintained or supported wholly or in part by the public funds shall be forever free from sectarian control and influence.' That's pretty clear," Honig says. He suggests the preschool's parents should talk to the district and give the ACLU a call. "I'm sure our legal department would be interested in talking to them," he says. ■