ACLU-Arkansas is looking into an incident in which a portion of the 2004 R-rated film "The Passion of the Christ," which gorily depicts the torture and crucifixion of Jesus,
was shown recently during a U.S. History class at Wilbur Mills High School,
with the teacher of the course later going on a classroom rant against liberals and political correctness
when a complaint to the school resulted in the second half of the film not being shown in a subsequent class. Audio of the teacher's diatribe was recorded, apparently by an unidentified student, and forwarded to ACLU-Arkansas and, later, Arkansas Times.
Reached at her office, ACLU-Arkansas legal director Holly Dickson identified the teacher speaking on the audio clip as Greg Hendrix, who also coaches football and track at the school.
Dickson said Hendrix is the same Greg Hendrix who was terminated as a football coach by the Bentonville School District
in October 2014 after, witnesses said,
he allegedly called a former player a "faggot" and a "fucking queer."
From Pulaski Special School District's Deb Roush:
The Pulaski County Special School District can confirm there was an incident involving allegations of inappropriate discussion in a classroom by a teacher at Mills University Studies High School that has prompted questions by the ACLU. The teacher involved has been suspended with pay pending an investigation by the district, which is underway at this time. Because this is a personnel issue, the district is limited, legally in what we can say beyond that at this time.
Quotes from the audio recording captured at Mills High feature the teacher speaking in front of what sounds to be a classroom full of students, with the rambling lecture on the evils of Liberalism beginning with him saying:
So here's the deal: your first amendment right to peacefully assemble in this classroom and to have free speech, was ruined by one person. A liberal. I keep telling you, when Democrats are offended by something and they don't agree with it, they want to shut it down, they want to ban it, and they want to censor it. So you have lost your first amendment right that is guaranteed to you by the constitution to peaceful assembly in this classroom, and to free speech, because of one person. How's that make you feel?
Later, the teacher tells the class that protesters at rallies by presidential hopeful Donald Trump were paid $3,500 each "by George Soros and some of his liberal foundations" to disrupt the rallies, adding:
I don't care whether you agree with Donald Trump's politics or his philosophies or not. The man has the right under the constitution to hold a presidential rally and have a peaceful rally. You had people there starting fights, standing, then they want to blame it on him because of his rhetoric, because of what he says. No, you did that because you got paid $3,500. Bird of a feather do what? They flock together. Let this be your first lesson on liberalism, Democrats 101. Let this be your first lesson. Don't say Jesus at school. Oh, Lord. Don't say Jesus at school. But we can push Islam on you, and, you know, gay rights, and all this other stuff. All that's acceptable. But don't say Jesus. Okay?
Still later in the recording, the teacher says that the sooner the students learn about Liberalism, the better off they'll be in life. Then he speaks about African-American support for Democrats, saying:
I keep telling you, I'll never understand how blacks can support the Democratic party. It just blows my mind. All they do is convince y'all that whoever the Republican nominee is is going to take away food stamps and all this stuff, put you in chains and send you back to Africa. Well, shit. If was going to happen, they would have done it a long time ago, wouldn't you think? Has a Republican ever done that? No. Here's the bottom line on Republicans, because I am one. Actually, I'm a Constitutional Conservative: we just want you to get off your ass and go to work and be productive members of society and quit mooching off the government, because somebody is paying for that. Me.
Holly Dickson with ACLU-Arkansas said they have shared the audio recording with the PCSSD and are preparing an ethics complaint to be filed with the State Board of Education.
"We've had several calls about this," Dickson said. "I think that's an important point. He seems to think there's one complaint about the film and I think in general the students realized that this was clearly illegal and over the top. We've started hearing more. It's not just about the film, obviously, which you can hear just from the audio."
Dickson said that students have an unfettered right to free speech and free assembly outside the schoolhouse, but when they're in the classroom, their speech is limited to things that are not disruptive to the educational environment.
"There is no general student right to assembly or free speech to monopolize a classroom or to receive information that's unconstitutional," Dickson said. "The film he was showing is a blatant violation of the First Amendment, and parents' rights to control the religious upbringing of their children."
Dickson said that not only is the film a violation of the separation of church and state, the ACLU also has a settlement agreement with the PCSSD which says district personnel will not subject students to "religious preaching on district premises during school hours."
The settlement stems from a 2003 federal civil rights case brought by the ACLU over a gay student in
the Jacksonville School District
Jacksonville being subjected to religious preaching by an assistant principal and forced to read the Bible as punishment for his sexual orientation. Read more about that case here:
See related PDF
The original complaints didn't stem solely from the showing of the film, but also from a reported study sheet that asked, in its first question: "Did seeing the movie change your perspective on Christ's suffering for your salvation and the degree to which God loves you?" The sheet was posted online by the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers.