COLUMBUS COUNTY, NC – According to the mother of an 8-year-old girl in North Carolina, a public school teacher rejected a paper by her daughter because it cited Jesus as her hero.
Heather Watts told local NBC affiliate WECT that her daughter Ryleigh is in the second grade at Cerro Gordo Elementary School in Columbus County. For a recent open-ended school assignment prompt, Ryleigh wrote, “My hero is Jesus.”
“My hero is Jesus because he helps me … He also makes good things happen,” Ryleigh wrote on the paper.
According to Watts, the paper was rejected by school officials. Ryleigh’s teachers allegedly asked her, “Can’t you write about something different?”
Watts was incensed, saying the school officials infringed upon her daughter’s First Amendment rights.
“I think she should have freedom to write about what she wants to write about,” Watts told WECT. “If she wants to write about Jesus, she should write about Jesus.”
After local media outlets reported the incident, Cerro Gordo Elementary School released a statement, in which they denied the mother’s claims.
“After speaking with both the teacher and the principal, we have learned that students were not restricted from writing on any topic of their choosing,” the statement says. “Columbus County Schools encourages student expression in all aspects of our educational program. We also have an open-door policy, and encourage our parents and guardians to contact or visit their child’s school to address any concerns.”
Nevertheless, Watts stands by her allegations. She told reporters that the issue has still not been resolved, as teachers insist that Ryleigh write a paper with a different theme.
Columbus County Schools’ official guidebook prohibits discrimination based on religion.
“The board acknowledges the dignity and worth of all students and employees and strives to create a safe, orderly, caring and inviting school environment to facilitate student learning and achievement,” the school guidebook states. “The board will not tolerate any form of unlawful discrimination … in any of its educational or employment activities.”
“Discrimination means any act or failure to act that unreasonably and unfavorably differentiates treatment of others based solely on their membership in a socially distinct group or category, such as race, ethnicity, sex, pregnancy, religion, age or disability,” the guidebook says.
Many commenters on online news sites took offense at the school district’s apparent rejection of Ryleigh’s paper.
“The problem that should worry us here is not if this young child’s ‘constitutional rights’ were violated,” one commenter posited. “The real problem I see is that we have a group of ‘educators’ that do not have even a rudimentary understanding of the U.S. constitution [and] what it says about religion and the government. Even if you buy the ‘separation of church and state’ (as we have now morphed it), nowhere does even that perverted version of the constitution say that you can’t be religious in or at a public function.”
“Imagine that in a nation that was built for the very reason of religious persecution is now become the haven for the intolerant and a nation of moral depravity,” another commenter wrote. “… If [the U.S. Founding Fathers] could see America today, would they have made more effort to ensure God remained relevant in government?”
As previously reported, an elementary school in Tennessee rejected a similar assignment from a 10-year-old girl last year because it mentioned God. However, following a national outcry, school officials changed their minds and accepted the student’s assignment.