By Robert Mann
Did you hear about the Buddhist teacher at a north Louisiana public school who berated one of her sixth-graders for his faith in Jesus Christ? Can you believe she had the audacity to tell him Christianity is “stupid”? Did you know her school has a picture of the Buddha on its wall?
And what about the school superintendent’s response when the child’s parents complained? She simply advised the parents to transfer their child to a school with more Christians.
Perhaps you’re shaking your head, muttering in angry disbelief about shocking misconduct by a public employee who tried coercing a student to abandon his faith. You should be angry, but would you be any less disturbed if the religions in this story were reversed?
Actually, the case in question concerns a middle school teacher in rural Sabine Parish (south of Shreveport) accused of sharing her Christian beliefs in class and who last fall allegedly harassed a student of Thai descent over his Buddhist faith. The case is now the subject of a federal lawsuit brought by the student’s parents against the teacher, the Sabine Parish School Board, its superintendent and the principal of Negreet High School, a kindergarten-through-12th-grade institution.
The parents and the child assert that his sciences and social studies teacher began proselytizing the sixth-grader after he enrolled last August. The child says the teacher, Rita Roark, told the class that Buddhism is “stupid,” questioned if the student “has to be raised Buddhist” and suggested he “change” his faith.
The parents say when they complained to the school superintendent, Sara Ebarb, she advised them to move their child to a school with “more Asians.”
School officials have not officially responded to the suit, except to say the “system recognizes the rights of all students to exercise the religion of their choice and will defend the lawsuit vigorously.”
Documents and photographs presented by the parents and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Louisiana suggest that Roark and other school officials believe that their jobs entail religious proselytizing. In particular, the suit offers evidence suggesting that Roark has required students to profess their Christian faith on tests and other assignments.
For example, the final question on one of Roark’s science tests was: “ISN’T IT AMAZING WHAT THE _______ HAS MADE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Raised Buddhist, the child was understandably unsure of the answer. He left it blank. The student says Roark returned the test, on which she wrote in red ink, “LORD.”
Why weren’t school officials appalled by Roark’s alleged behavior? Well, it might be because the Negreet school resembles a Christian organization that also teaches students about reading and writing. Until recently, the School Board’s website listed, as its number-one principle, “We believe that: God exists.”