Wednesday :: Sep 28, 2005

Q&A with Stevens Creek Elementary School (CA) parents - Part II

by eriposte

This is the second part of a multi-part Q&A with three parents who belong to the group We The Parents (WTP). The background on the lawsuit in question is here and Part I of the Q&A is here. In this part the parents respond to questions relating to the lawsuit and the Far Right Alliance Defense Fund (ADF).

As stated in Part I, please note that:
(a) All the views offered by these parents are their own personal views and DO NOT represent the views of the We The Parents organization.
(b) The responses by the parents were sent independently of each other (i.e., I present their responses clubbed together for convenience, but they were not submitted at the same time).
(c) The responses are reproduced as-is except for minor edits for punctuation/typos/URLs. Alongside some of the responses, I have added my own commentary (enclosed in [...]).
(d) I have rearranged the order of some questions because I had to break up the Q&A into multiple parts (owing to length considerations) and I wanted to keep related questions close to each other. This does not affect the parents responses in any way since the responses are independent of the ordering of the questions.

Q&A - Part II

Q4 [Eriposte at The Left Coaster (TLC)]: What did you think of the ADF/Stephen Williams lawsuit against Stevens Creek Elementary Principal Patricia Vidmar and CUSD?

Dick Crouch: It speaks volumes that it was withdrawn without a shred of evidence being brought forward to justify the allegations of anti-Christian discrimination and violation of free speech [details here - Eriposte.].
Baseless though it was, I had no objection to the lawsuit. I think people around the school accepted that Stephen Williams had a perfect right to go to law about a personnel grievance. It's unfortunate when these local (and frankly uninteresting) disputes go to court, but hardly uncommon.
But there was no justification for the publicity campaign whipped up around the lawsuit, which was maliciously directed against individuals like the principal, Patricia Vidmar. Few seem prepared to say this explicitly, but the ADF lied in order to maximize publicity for their case. They claimed that the Declaration of Independence had been banned. They much later conceded that this was not true, but had the gall to assert that their press release headline "Declaration of Independence banned from Cupertino classroom" had been somehow misinterpreted by the media to imply a ban. [The fact that ADF blatantly lied, as Mr. Crouch points out, is shown here - Eriposte].

John Bartas: Initially I didn't have any strong opinions - I didn't even read the suit itself until weeks after it was filed. I had met and liked both Stephen and Patti and found it hard to believe what was happening, but I figured the truth would be easy to find out and the courts would do the right thing, which Judge Ware did some months later. The lawsuit was never the issue for any of the parents I worked with - it was the lies they told about the school and our community in the media that riled us.

Nathalie Schuler: It goes without saying that we thought it was baseless from the start. Time proved us right.
Patti has always been a caring human being who is an avid advocate for her teachers and staff and had many times advocated for Williams, so this was particularly painful because everyone cares so much for her.
We always respected Williams' right to pursue this matter legally and I personally admire his courage in standing up for what he thought was right. But we all despised the methods used by the ADF in getting coverage for the case, no doubt to increase their funding from supporters. Truth has a way of coming out anyway, and their tactics will eventually harm them. The parent who supported ADF was so upset about it that he became one of our most vocal antagonizers of ADF and word of mouth has a way of coming back to bite you! I hope in this case it does.

[Eriposte comments: I also don't object to lawsuits per se since sometimes that is the only way to get justice. However, I do object to the aggressive use of lies to push and support a lawsuit. Moreover, it was apparent to me from the beginning that this lawsuit was frivolous, fake and had no merit whatsoever.]

TLC, Q5: Had you heard of ADF prior to this lawsuit? If you had, has this lawsuit changed your impression of them? What is your impression of ADF today?

Crouch: Never heard of them before this. My impression of them today is that it insults religion to call the ADF a religiously-oriented group. They represent a narrow, sectarian brand of Christianity allied with a partisan political outlook, and show few scruples in pursuit of their goals. A branch of the American Taliban. [Proof here. Now, some real conservatives may take offense to the term American Taliban, but let me note that the term refers to the Radical/Far Right, as explained here and here by Markos in semantically loosely worded posts (replace "Right" by "Far Right") - Eriposte.]

Bartas: I don't pay much attention to the lunatic fringe and don't watch much TV; so I had never heard of the ADF, James Dobson or Sean Hannity, until the police showed up at the school.
I believe in Jesus' teachings, so it seemed bizarre to me that an allegedly Christian group would be saying these things. Patti Vidmar and many of us parents are conservative, patriotic, and Christian to boot, so it was absurd to claim anyone had banned the Declaration or discriminated against Christians.
As you point out on your site, the ADF must have known their legal case was pathetic, so it seems they were just after the publicity. In either case they were not very Christian. Just in this one case they broke about half the ten commandments (think "false witness") and did a very bad job of modeling "Blessed are the poor in spirit", "Blessed are the meek" or "Blessed are the peacemakers".
Years ago Charles Manson and his followers committed some horrible murders and gave all hippies a bad name. Manson was not a hippy, but he looked like one, the media said he was one, and thus hippies were thereafter regarded with suspicion.
I'm afraid groups like the ADF are doing this to Christianity. I'd like to see the Christian churches of the nation find the courage to very publicly denounce groups like the ADF as un-Christian, just as many earnest Muslim groups denounce Al-Qaeda.

Schuler: Personally I had not. I believe that was the case with most of us, with the exception of the ex-supporter. And needless to say our impression today is very negative. It was not surprising to us that they spun this case, which they withdrew, as a victory for them! The district policy has not changed an iota and they are saying the teachers can NOW teach the historic documents!!! It has always been district policy to teach the documents! How else can you teach history? The issue was his goal in the teaching of history not the documents.
Intelligent people will read through the lines. People without any ability to think critically will continue to support them I guess!

[Eriposte comments: I should add that ADF is one of a handful of the so-called "Christian Right" legal firms who realized the power of a judicial approach to addressing grievances (based on the success of groups like the ACLU) and adopted it wholeheartedly, while simultaneously working (hypocritically) with partisan groups (on the Right) that criticize trial lawyers and lawsuits. Other such firms include Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), the Rutherford Institute (RI), the Center for Law and Religious Freedom, which is the formal advocacy arm of the Christian Legal Society (CLS) and Liberty Counsel (LC). I have commented on the legal and off-court strategies of these firms in a previous post "Church-State Separation in the United States: Religion in Public Schools and the Legal/Off-Courtroom Strategies of the Christian Right". As I point out there,

...firms like the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) have evolved a partly successful strategy of lawsuits to propagate religion and religious views, especially in public schools...

By the admission of some of the [so-called] Christian Right legal firms, they achieve most of their goals via off-courtroom activities. This includes (among other things):
(a) public relations and (sometimes fake) propaganda via a helpful mainstream media and Christian/right-wing networks,
(b) so-called public "education" campaigns using bulletins, letters or notices to public organizations like schools, and,
(c) threats of lawsuits...]

TLC, Q6: Now that the lawsuit has been dropped by Stephen Williams (the teacher), is he going to continue teaching at the school? Do you have any advice or suggestions for him?

Crouch: He was transferred to a middle school in the same district, and then resigned from the district a few days after the lawsuit was dropped. My advice: if he returns to education, he would do better to focus his
energies on teaching.

Bartas: Willaims recently resigned. I feel the ADF used him in all this - he's lost a lot of friends, damaged his career, and changed nothing at the school. The ADF got their PR boost, and then hung him out to dry. I guess my advice to Stephen Williams would be not to take himself so seriously, and choose his friends more carefully.

Schuler: Williams has resigned. He had been reassigned to a middle school in the district, very probably due to pressure by the other teachers and because we gathered over 164 letters by parents requesting not to have him as a teacher this year. I really shouldn't say we, because it was not a WTP initiative, it was a Nathalie Schuler initiative and I will take full responsibility for it. I believe all the members of WTP sent one in, but it was not in our stated mission so we couldn't do it as group. And the initiative was not started within the group.
As far as advise for Williams, I personally wish him well, and I hope he finds a school that is more agreeable with what he wants to teach. I think he has an amazing passion for Jesus and God and that it should be put to use in a setting where it is appropriate. There are many religious schools where that kind of passion could be put to good use. Anyone can teach history, but not everyone who teaches history has a passion for Christianity. If my kids went to parochial school, I would like them to have a teacher with that passion for scripture. But my kids don't. So in a public school setting it is not appropriate.

[Eriposte comments: In particular, Mr. Bartas' succinct summary is worth noting: "The ADF got their PR boost, and then hung him out to dry." Truer words haven't been uttered about the real motivations and MO of Far Right groups in this country. I have been highly critical of Mr. Williams in my posts but I also wish him well and hope that he finds a religious school that would better serve his aspirations; additionally, I would advice him to stop using bogus or dubious, unsourced documents to spread myths about America's founders. I will note that, to his (minimal) credit, Mr. Williams did try to correct serial liar Sean Hannity (of Fox News) when Hannity was repeatedly mouthing the lie about the alleged "ban" on the Declaration of Independence by the Stevens Creek Elementary School.]

To be continued...
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