H.S. Art Teacher Told He Teaches Satan!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about distribution of religious tracts: I have asked maintenance-man not to put anything in my mailbox or e-mail me anything of a religious nature. Who’s wrong here? Him for doing this in the workplace or am I interfering with his 1st Amendment rights?

I teach at the local high school. Our maintenance-man has placed religious pamphlets in my classroom, tracts in my school mail box and used district e-mail to “preach” to me about my student’s artwork (Day of the Dead sculptures) that he found had links with Satan and witchcraft. I have asked him not to put anything in my mailbox or e-mail me anything of a religious nature. Who’s wrong here? Him for doing this in the workplace or am I interfering with his 1st Amendment rights? If this continues, could it be grounds for a harassment complaint?

Signed, Art  Teacher

Dear Teacher:

May your tribe increase. Apparently, you have expressed the First Amendment both in your teaching and in asserting the right to experience freedom of and from religion. Keep copies of what your maintenance man sent you and of your request that he not leave more such pamphlets in your classroom or send “preaching” e-mails.

The classroom is not a place to distribute religious literature, and the maintenance man should be apprised of that.You do not say, how you expressed your self in making the request or demand that he should stop preaching to you or your students. Because you must work with this individual, I assume you spoke to him face to face. Were you polite but firm?

Did you try to help him understand that you appreciate him as an individual who wants to do what he believes is right; and that however, “preaching” is for outside the school, not in it because students are “captive” there? Unfortunately, the extremely devout don’t always respect those they determine are under Satan’s spell. Sometimes they stir up hatred in the community for the freedom of artists and in your case what an art teacher permits.

So watch your back. The maintenance man may take his concerns to members of his church and to your school administrators and school board. When I was a drama instructor in a college, I had such criticism brought for the mildest of profanity in one of our plays. I am interested in what you do in your role of instructor to build goodwill within your school environment.

Do you display your student’s work? Are some of their works shared with the local library, churches, nursing homes, hospitals, and clubs? That can put capital in your bank should the fanatically devout target you. Do you have records of what you encourage and permit?. For example, might you have encouraged creation of art about virtuous maxims such as “Honesty is the best policy”, “Respect others’ faces and space”, or poetry or music “A million tomorrows will all pass away, lest I forget all the joys that are mine today”? Or might you have invited someone to your class to teach Ikebana and then shared the student’s flower arrangements with the school offices and classrooms?

Also you have thought about and perhaps put in writing what if any limits you will and do impose on such matters as art of students that would include firearms, fireworks, drugs, dangerous chemicals, excrement, bigotry, and/or disparagement of significant religious and patriotic symbols? You may not post such limits to bait students to challenge them in the name of free speech and press, but it would be wise to have these thought through for your own sake, should you be accosted by those who seek to fault you.

I am sending my advice to Barry Hester, one of our guest respondents who was a former high school instructor and won state drama awards and also served as a school administrator. He may have something to add or modify my remarks. If he does then I can add a second opinion to this Workplace Doctor’s advice. Incidentally, you might find my page of paintings evidence of a love of art even if not of great skill. It can be accessed www.personal.kent.edu/~gorden

Independent-mindedness is best realized in the marketplace of ideas. Interdependent-mindedness is best realized when we are committed to the common good in terms of freedom from hunger and oppression, and freedom of expression. Our signature WEGO symbolizes that.

William Gorden