Peter Berger–Religion As An Activity Engaged In By Consenting Adults In Private

The Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University publishes a very informative electronic newsletter about religious developments all over the world. On January 12, 2013, the newsletter carried a story originally published in the Buffalo News, about Joelle Silver, a high school science teacher in a community in upstate New York called Cheektowaga. This melodiously named place, now a suburb of Buffalo, is located in the general vicinity of the so-called Burnt-Over District, which in the nineteenth century was a hotbed of Protestant revivals and other charismatic movements (the Mormons originated in the same neighborhood). Silver (a photo shows her to be an attractive young woman) is a committed Evangelical Christian, thus more or less in continuity with the regional religious history (although the town now has a large Polish community unlikely to be strongly Protestant).

It so happens that Cheektowaga, or at least its high school, also contains a militantly secularist teenager. This individual (no name given in the story) took umbrage at Silver’s displaying a variety of religious objects in the classroom, including posters with religious messages and a “prayer request box” belonging to a students’ Bible study group. The offended student alerted the Freedom from Religion Foundation, a militantly secularist organization operating out of Madison, Wisconsin. In response to its intervention the school ordered Silver to remove her religious materials from the classroom.

Silver sued the school authorities in U.S. district court for violating her constitutional right to the free exercise of religion.

Read it all.


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