Kindergartener's art censored by NY school

Thursday, October 15, 2009
By Frank Lockwood

The child drew a picture of Jesus, complete with beard and flowing robe. And it caused an uproar. A court will decide whether the censorship was appropriate, reports.

No Responses to “Kindergartener's art censored by NY school”

  1. perplexed

    I would think the big argument here would be, is what the art represents to the child the same interpretation as those that condemned it, thus proof that the “authorities” in this case are operating at a kindergarten level! I guess you would have to look at it both ways, the child could be operating at higher level than the administration!

  2. perplexed

    Another question that comes to mind, ” Who is teaching this kid in an effective manner, the school that is supposed to serve him or a Sunday school class where he spends about 1/30th of the amount of time he spends in school? Is censorship a cover for ineffective teaching?

  3. peach

    Liberty Counsel first filed the case on behalf of the Syracuse student and his mother in 1999. Ten years later, the case, Peck v. Baldwinsville School District, is on its third appeals hearing

    what is really sad is that this has been going on now for 10 years and the child will probably be graduating before the decision is made on whether or not it was wrong.
    (and I can only imagine the original masterpiece to be stick figures)

  4. “a cover for ineffective teaching.” Great comment perplexed! I’m gonna have my son draw a picture of Mohammed or Buddha just to see what happens.

  5. Caleb Powers

    Frank, I wonder if the word censorship is proper here. This was a class assignment. As the article says:

    “Antonio Peck, the student, had drawn a poster with several religious figures with the words, “The only way to save the world,” for an art project that had to show understanding about the environment. Antonio meant to express his belief that God is the only way to save the environment, according to his legal representative Liberty Counsel.”

    So, the assignment was to do a poster about how to save the environment. Now I suppose that one might well believe that only God can help save the environment, just as only YOU can prevent forest fires, but I think the assignment was meant to go to the next step, what people (with or without God’s help) would actually do for the environment. And, the article says, the project was meant to demonstrate understanding of the issues.
    I suspect the teacher was looking for more practical answers, like reducing driving or recycling more.

    So, to me it’s not a question of censorship, but one of education. What’s the logical extent of this? If a high school student is given an assignment to figure out the area of a square, can he just say that only God knows the TRUE area of the square because human means of measurement are flawed? If the question concerns public policy, can a student just say “God will fix it,” and go on, kind of like the Republicans do? While all this might well give the evangelicals warm fuzzies, they don’t show much learning or education.

    We’re graduating students from high school who can barely read, and forget trying to get them to figure anything out for themselves. Their knowledge of mathematics is rudimentary at best, and their knowledge of history is limited to the Hollywood version, if that. And no one is worried about that. But, if one of these brats yells “Jesus,” we get ten years of appeals when what the kid should have gotten was some instruction on what the teacher really wanted him to draw.

  6. Julian Malakar

    Caleb, life is bigger than classroom instructions. Let the free flow of thoughts be nourished since kindergarten. It is true that “children is wiser than elders” in many cases, 10 years to resolve an issue.
    We should not forget that idea of rational thinking came from religions. Religion is not un-touchable.

    Science improves micro level quality of life such as day to day life but science has limitation on macro level involving total knowledge about universe. With the help of “Superpower (Jesus)” along with combined wisdom of people of the earth, could be another way that could save the world. Global warming, destruction by Tsunamis, men/women alone can not stop unless Mother Nature helps. As long science could not deny existence of God, school authority could not through away new idea as rubbish, unless they are biased on non-existence of God.

  7. Caleb Powers

    Well, Julian, that’s fine if we want to produce philosophers, but I’d like school to produce people who can actually read and write, and do mathematical calculations. You can talk about God all day, but when you’re doing your income taxes, you might want someone who can add numbers. Likewise, you can talk about God’s role in global warming all you want to, but unless people get together and stop polluting the atmosphere, we’re going to have it in spades. I’d rather let the schools actually educate our children and leave the religion to home and church. I would think that would be what conservatives would want, too, but you never see them say so.

  8. Julian Malakar

    Caleb, my point is that if society sends religion (moral value) to home and to church only and allow sex (immoral) in public is it healthy for society?

    It became a taboo now that we can not talk, or display religious related issues in public as sex was in the past. We know that Bishops, priests and all church and other religious leaders who influence our day to day life also came out of kindergarten so do scientists, lawyers, accountants, engineers etc. They also contribute to society as do other professions. But in reality we are influenced by some force who says that it is not OK to talk and display about religion but it is OK to talk and display about sex in the form of expressing love in public. It is misconception about religion. Secularism is not free of religion and religion is not opium as atheist believe.

  9. Caleb Powers

    That’s an interesting analysis, Julian, but it doesn’t jibe with our laws. Our constitution forbids the entanglement between government and religion. Public schools are, for better or worse, operated by the government. So, it is not proper to teach religion or show a special degree of respect for one religion over another.

    So, I’ve really got two points.

    My first point is that the place of school is not to teach religion, it’s to teach secular subjects. I understand that members of every profession need a good moral compass, and I don’t object to the teaching of morality in schools, but I do object to tying it to Christianity.

    My second point is that the schools do a very poor job of teaching the subjects they’re supposed to teach: English, math, science, and the like. I think they need to concentrate on learning to teach these subjects better before they start in on religion. Which leads to the next question: Do you really want the state in charge of teaching your children religion? I don’t; I’d rather my church and myself and my family do that.

  10. José

    “It became a taboo now that we can not talk, or display religious related issues in public…”

    Sorry, JM, but this MUST be corrected. Of course we can talk about religion and display religious artwork in public. The law protects our right to do so, and for that I am very grateful. But the law– our American Constitution– forbids the entanglement of which Caleb speaks. No religious group can hijack government institutions or spend public funds to advance their religion. That seems fair to me. Does it not seem fair to you?

    Religious speech is everywhere in the American society. It’s not just church signs but also bumper stickers and billboards all over the country. It’s not just a few commercials but also radio stations, TV stations, entire broadcasting networks, newspapers, etc. To suggest that religious speech is somehow forbidden, well that’s both absurd and untruthful.

  11. Caleb Powers

    True, Jose, and to take it one step further, that freedom to discuss religion in public does apply to the public schools as well. Students are quite free to have Christian groups, read the Bible during their spare time, and wear religious jewelry and clothing. What the school is not free to do is require students to follow or respect any form of religion or religious observance. The reason this particular form of religious expression was rejected was because it was meant to satisfy a class requirement that it didn’t satisfy.

  12. perplexed

    We’re talking about kids in kindergarten, the ability of these children to comprehend civil law in one of their assignments is the very fact why schools are in the shape their in. The proper format should have been a discussion by the teacher, who was most likely afraid to speak for the fear of being sued by Susie’s parents, the teacher should be able to explain to the children why Jesus isn’t allowed in the classroom. It should have been a civics lesson at the least. Censoring isn’t the solution.

  13. Julian Malakar

    I sense a flaws in our democratic system, Caleb. There is suppression of free flow of idea (freedom of speech) by maintaining strict interpretation of secularism by exclusion of religion philosophy. The way government institutions interpret religion, it seems to treat religion as drug use. People do not want any endorsement by government institution for any sect, religion or Churches. But that does not mean we as an individual can not show cross sign in work place or school. If government institutions prohibit from doing so, it is kind of religious prosecution as do in communism world. A child’s idea in saving the planet has been thrown out because of a touch of religion, cheer leaders’ cheering slogan taken from religion philosophy has been banned from display, praying by players before game to gain strength banned like drug use etc. etc. These and other incidents indicate, our misinterpretation of secularism attack on personal freedom.

    School is to give knowledge of major subjects that we encounter in course of our life to become a good citizen. Beside science, math, and literature, moral value without any doubt is important knowledge to give child from head start. Because Jesus Christ died for you and me for our salvation and teach us to love our neighbor same as ourselves irrespective of color, creed religion we could exclude Christian value from school curriculum without any protest and encourage atheism in the name of secular.

    I agree with you about poor performance standard of our school system for facing competitive world for days to come. I also agree with you all that government should be neutral and treat all citizen equally including sexual orientation.

  14. José

    I don’t know what Julian’s “democratic system” is, but my American republic is doing pretty darned well. Our government not only protects religious speech but it subsidizes organized religion with laws that exempt churches and pastors from a lot of taxes. To call that persecution is awfully silly. To compare our constitutional separation of church and state with the mandated atheism in some Communist governments is nothing short of deceitful.

  15. Caleb Powers

    Julian, the problem is that the kid didn’t have an idea to save the planet. He had an idea about getting someone else (Jesus) to save the planet. And that wasn’t the assignment. The assignment was to show something that people who can’t walk on water and survive crucifixion could do to help save the planet. To me, this isn’t a matter of religion, but a matter of competence. The problem wasn’t that he drew a picture of Jesus, the problem is that he DIDN’T draw a picture of what he was assigned to draw. I mean, are we going to give everyone a free pass on every academic requirement just because they believe in Jesus?

    The suggestion that religion has been excluded from public schools is also ridiculous. As I said earlier, every student has the right to engage in private religious devotions even in school. What the school can’t do is require that type of devotion. And western culture, which is still taught at least to some extent in our public school is largely based on traditional Christian values.

    Like Jose, I am happy with our secular republic, and if anything, only wish that it were more, not less, secular.

  16. José

    “These and other incidents indicate, our misinterpretation of secularism attack on personal freedom. [sic]”

    Let’s take a closer look at the claim of victimization. In many cases you will see religious extremists pushing the limits of what is acceptable and legal. Contrary to what Julian implies, it’s not that the schools and courthouses are out to erase religion from American society. Rather it is some religious groups that insist on insinuating their faith into government institutions. Perhaps this incident of the kindergartner is different, and the courts will rule that the school overreacted. So be it. However if you consider the many conflicts regarding school prayer, posting of scriptures on government property, and the like, it is clear that these are not innocent citizens who are being harassed for practicing their faith in peace. Rather these folks are spoiling for a fight.

    It is inaccurate to equate the forced atheism in some countries with our American law that calls for religious neutrality. To the contrary, state-mandated atheism is much more similar to state-mandated religion. In both cases the government is abusing its power and authority by trying to control the beliefs of its people. Our founders wisely decided to allow the people to choose how to believe and worship. Why do so many Christians despise our American freedom of conscience?

  17. peach

    For the second poster, Antonio had children holding hands around the globe, people recycling trash, and children picking up garbage

    I think the kid had a pretty good idea of the environment. I am sure his masterpiece of Jesus was only visible after he said who it was. If he had said superman would that have made his poster okay by the teacher’s standards?
    this was a five year old child at the time, I wonder what the other posters showed?

  18. Julian Malakar

    Caleb, Jose I think we all agree that censorship by school district on a student’s viewpoint on a permissible subject matter in response to a school assignment or program was not legitimate, based on 1st amendment, bill of right. Caleb if the student’s drawing is not up to the mark of subject matter of assignment, there is grading system A,B,C,D or F at the discretion of class teacher. But she can not fold the center figure of the pupil’s viewpoint and display the rest.

    Kindergarten’s case is not issue of separation of state & church as many think. It is issue of freedom of speech of an individual. The child represents individual viewpoint not the church. Again historical Jesus Christ is not criminal that His picture have to be hidden, will you hide a picture of Greek philosopher Socrates, in a referential diagram? There is no prohibition in the constitution, not to refer Christ in intellectual discussion or well fare of public related matter. For example to bring harmony among diversified culture we could bring teaching of Christ as described in “good Samaritan story” or love your neighbor as yourself; to preserve spirit of law abiding society, and to commemorate a historical milestone in development of civil law, 10 commandments of Moses could be kept in court house, as a historical souvenir.

    We must remember secularism is not minus Christianity. Founding fathers knowing power of Judo-Christian God printed the famous believe “In God we trust” in the most valuable “US dollar”. The God who separated Red sea by mighty hand. Some citizen may not believe that man set foot on the surface of moon, but they must respect majority believe.

    If we can teach safe sex in the school for health, why can we not teach safe moral by religion value for good spirit? As sex is part of life, so do spirit. Man can not live by bread (sex) alone.

  19. Caleb Powers

    You’re absolutely right, Jose. This hearkens back to the comment of another reader here, who said that he didn’t understand why people thought they needed the power of government to promote their own religion: You’d think if their beliefs were true, they wouldn’t need the help of the government to get people to believe them.

    And you’re right that these are hardly innocent citizens. As Peach suggests, this kid was five years old, and no doubt no more than a pawn in the situation, but the adults who constantly want to put religious images and references into our public buildings don’t have that excuse.

  20. Caleb Powers

    And Peach, no, I don’t think Superman would have been any more effective. The whole point is that the poster was supposed to show what real people alive today — not historical religious figures OR superheroes — can do to clean up the environment. In many ways, this case is a parable for what’s wrong with America: We always seem to think that no matter how badly we screw something up, Jesus or Superman (take your pick) will come in behind us and clean it up. One of the reasons our planet is so polluted today is because everyone has been sitting around waiting for Jesus or Superman to clean it up rather than doing it ourselves.

  21. perplexed

    Caleb, in the mind of a 5 year old, Jesus is alive today.

  22. Caleb Powers

    The problem, perplexed, is that Jesus, alive or dead, is not going to clean up after us. We need to do that ourselves. And the sooner we teach five year olds that, the sooner they will grow up into responsible adults.

  23. Caleb Powers

    And, perplexed, Superman is just as alive as Jesus in the eyes of a five year old.

  24. perplexed

    You hit the nail right on the head Caleb, its about teaching! Teachers in the public school system are afraid to teach and this is what happens when they make a stand, millions of taxpayers dollars wasted, instead of a simple explanation.


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