by Max Brantley
We wrote earlier about the Greene County Tech elementary counselor in Paragould who put up a Nativity scene display in her classroom despite counsel against it from the school district lawyer, Donn Mixon of Jonesboro, and the administration. Forced to take it down, she went to the press. The resulting news coverage stirred a religionist fervor in town and school officials let her put her Nativity scene back up.
Enter the Arkansas affiliate of the ACLU. It wrote a letter to the School District citing the ample legal precedent that the display was an improper promotion of religion in a public school and asked that the School Board decide at its meeting Dec. 15 to take it down.
By the time the district received the letter, one day remained in the period before the holidays. Mixon still recommended that the display come down. The School Board said no. That was too late for the ACLU act this year.
John Burnett, a Little Rock lawyer cooperating with the ACLU on the case, said, "We're not dropping it just because the season is over." In other words, in 11 months it will be time again for the pig-headed proselytizing teacher to put her display back up again. The ACLU will be watching. "We're not dying to sue anyone," Burnett said. "It would be better if they came to their senses."
I couldn't reach school officials or Mixon for comment today. But let's have a bit of the ACLU's ringing words:
The nativity decoration at this primary school is unquestionably for the sectarian purpose of celebrating the distinctly religious aspects of the holiday and promoting the Christian religion, as both the circumstances of the display demonstrate and as Superintendent Noble has made quite clear in his public statements. The sectarian effect of this decoration is unmistakable as well. The U.S. Supreme Court, and the lower federal courts, have made abundantly clear that there are heightened Establishment Clause concerns in the context of public schools — particularly elementary schools — and this display clearly crosses the line. All of which is to confirm what we all know: decisions about children's religious education are best left in the hands of parents, not public school officials.
Not in the classroom of Kay Williams of Greene County, Arkansas. There, the U.S. Constitution is dirt.