Paszkiewicz is famous now!

David Paszkiewicz, the history teacher recorded while proselytizing to his students, has made the NY Times. Here’s the familiar part:

Shortly after school began in September, the teacher told his sixth-period students at Kearny High School that evolution and the Big Bang were not scientific, that dinosaurs were aboard Noah’s ark, and that only Christians had a place in heaven, according to audio recordings made by a student whose family is now considering a lawsuit claiming Mr. Paszkiewicz broke the church-state boundary.

“If you reject his gift of salvation, then you know where you belong,” Mr. Paszkiewicz was recorded saying of Jesus. “He did everything in his power to make sure that you could go to heaven, so much so that he took your sins on his own body, suffered your pains for you, and he’s saying, ‘Please, accept me, believe.’ If you reject that, you belong in hell.”

The story also documents some of the reactions in the community. It’s mostly negative…against the student who dared to document the flagrantly illegal actions of the teacher.

In this tale of the teacher who preached in class and the pupil he offended, students and the larger community have mostly lined up with Mr. Paszkiewicz, not with Matthew, who has received a death threat handled by the police, as well as critical comments from classmates.

Greice Coelho, who took Mr. Paszkiewicz’s class and is a member of his youth group, said in a letter to The Observer, the local weekly newspaper, that Matthew was “ignoring the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which gives every citizen the freedom of religion.” Some anonymous posters on the town’s electronic bulletin board,, called for Matthew’s suspension.

Despite the fact that even conservative legal organizations are saying that Paszkiewicz is basically indefensible, no action has been taken against him.

(via The Island of Doubt)


  1. CCP says

    Poor kid. Braces, an interest in theater, and now the local culture-wars whipping boy…highschool sucks for kids like that.

    While you’re checking out the Times article, scroll down to the bottom and click on the picture of a woman holding a huge chunk of what might be ambergris ($$$)…but apparently nobody knows anymore what ambergris looks like!

  2. says

    CCP: “…highschool sucks for kids like that.”

    Article: ““Instead of mulling Supreme Court precedents, [Matthew] said with half a smile, “I should be worrying about who I’m going to take to the prom.”

    Sciencebloggers, and scienceblog readers . . . well, need I say more?

  3. says

    I’ll certainly admit that I don’t know much about the US Constitution or the US Bill of Rights, but from what I understand, Greice Coelho is just wrong: the First Amendment applies to Congress, not to individual citizens. So Matthew can’t ignore it, since it doesn’t apply to him, right?

  4. DrFrank says

    The way I’d look at it, Miguel, (and I’m from the UK rather than the US, so I may be wrong!) is that while Paszkiewicz has the right to believe whatever the hell he likes in the privacy of his home, forcing them directly upon children in school is a direct violation of their First Amendment rights.

    Of course, if any ‘merkins want to contradict me on that you should probably listen to their opinion over mine :)

  5. Law Student Lurker says

    The text of the First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    Like other constitutional provisions, this is applicable to state actions, not private ones. Mr. Paszkiewicz, in his public school teaching capacity, is a state actor. Matthew is not. Anyone crying out that Mr. Paszkiwicz’s religious freedoms were abused by Matthew is either very confused and/or just dislikes what Matthew did.

  6. quork says

    Greice Coelho, who took Mr. Paszkiewicz’s class and is a member of his youth group, said in a letter to The Observer, the local weekly newspaper, that Matthew was “ignoring the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which gives every citizen the freedom of religion.”

    The NCSE lists a couple of cases that are more specifically about teaching Creationism than direct proselytization, but seem to be relevant.

    5. In 1990, in Webster v. New Lenox School District, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals found that a school district may prohibit a teacher from teaching creation science in fulfilling its responsibility to ensure that the First Amendment’s establishment clause is not violated and that religious beliefs are not injected into the public school curriculum. The court upheld a district court finding that the school district had not violated Webster’s free speech rights when it prohibited him from teaching “creation science”, since it is a form of religious advocacy. (Webster v. New Lenox School District #122, 917 F. 2d 1004)

  7. Jim in STL says

    …right to believe whatever the hell he likes in the privacy of his home…

    Mr. Paszkiewicz enjoys a constitutional protection of free speech and is free to express his beliefs in the church or in the public square (outside the public school) as long as he’s not advocating imminent harm (shouting fire in a crowded theater, etc.).

    He is free to prosyletize anywhere from the privacy of his home to the town square to the editorial pages of every newspaper in the US but not within the public school as an agent of the school, which violates the provision against government establishment of religion.

  8. quork says

    Quote 1:

    Frank Viscuso, a Kearny resident, wrote in a letter to The Observer that “when a student is advised by his ‘attorney’ father to bait a teacher with questions about religion, and then records his answers and takes the story to 300 newspapers, that family isn’t ‘offended’ by what was said in the classroom — they’re simply looking for a payout and to make a name for themselves.” He called the teacher one of the town’s best.

    Quote 2:

    Some of Matthew’s detractors say he set up his teacher by baiting him with religious questions. But Matthew, who was raised in the Ethical Culture Society, a humanist religious and educational group, said all of his comments were in response to something the teacher said.
    “I didn’t start any of the topics that were discussed,” he said.

  9. says

    If I recall, Paszkiewicz initially lied about the fact that he was proselytizing in class, before he know that Matthew had audiotaped him.

    And yet, there’s been no action taken against Paszkiewicz? That alone should be enough to get him fired.

  10. Jason R says

    In response to Miguel:

    The Bill of Rights originally applied only to the federal government and not individuals; the 14th amendment, however, was interpretted by the S.C. to extend these rights to the state level.

    Speach is not an issue here though – the Establishment clause is. This is a public school and this is a public employee (right?).

  11. says

    Here are some of the letters to the Observer (11/29 edition), including Greice Coelho’s. Veeeery interesting:

    Whenever you talk about the history of the United States, you must also talk about how God was the basis for everything that we are today. In the Pledge of Allegiance, the phrase “One Nation, under God” was put there for a reason. On the back of every dollar bill, it reads “In God We Trust.” Our nation was built around the belief of God, and everywhere you look in our history, people have looked to God for inspiration and help. You do not have to believe or approve of God to live here, but you should know that God is the basis of our great country.

    . . .I was a student of Mr. Paszkiewicz’s during the 2003-2004 school year. I believe he is one of the best teachers at Kearny High School. Paszkiewicz teaches U.S.History, and scattered throughout that history book are pages that talk about God.

    To teach U.S. History, you have to mention God, and to get a better understanding of our history, you must have a better understanding of God.

    I am currently a student at Montclair State University, and because of Mr. Paszkiewicz, I am a history major with the dream of one day teaching high school history. Mr. Paszkiewicz taught the class the way it should be taught — he made you read the text, and then he would discuss it with you . . .

    Coehlo also makes a similar argument: “ One of the accusations I heard about Mr. Paszkiewicz is his ignorance about science. Well, maybe he doesn’t agree with some of the things that science teaches, but apparently LaClair is very ignorant about his history. This country was founded on a solid Christian belief, and this is the kind of things that history teachers talk about.

    Oh wait a minute, Paszkiewicz is a history teacher!

    Perhaps Matthew is the one who is mixing things up; maybe he needs to stay after school for some extra help in American History before proceeding with his education.

  12. bones says

    It’s fairly obvious what happened here. The teacher violated seperation of church and state, is a crappy teacher (the dinosaurs were on Noah’s ark), and then lied to cover it up. He should have been fired just for lying. In this day and age the only recourse to get Mussolini wannabes on school boards and principles to do what’s right is to sue. So please sue away.

  13. stogoe says

    This school district needs to fire everyone from Paszkiewicz on up, if not exile them to a small subarctic isle. This is blatantly stupid.

  14. says

    Sadly, it seems the only way to ensure a teacher is disciplined for bad behavior anymore is to threaten a lawsuit. That will make school districts fold faster than a wet blanket. Anything short of that threat, and they refuse to act.

  15. says

    Forget the Establishment Clause for a minute. Does it not occur to any of the students except Matthew LaClair that proselytising a particular religion in the school classroom is a waste of their time? Or do they simply think that preaching damnation to all but born-again Christians is the same as teaching the history of religion in the United States?

    Maybe a teacher with an better track record of keeping his or her religious belief out of the classroom should try preaching that only the socks of those blessed by the Invisible Pink Unicorn (BBHHH) will be raptured from the washing machine – and then ask them whether they still think Paszkiewicz’s teaching was appropriate.

  16. Steve_C says

    Isn’t the teacher also a minister? Who didn’t see this coming? He can’t help himself.
    Plus just listening to the recording you know the guy is a putz.

    The discussion is supposed to be about populist beliefs and he pretends that evolution and the big bang theories are just that. Meanwhile it’s the religioun and his ignorance of science that’s the populism in the room.

  17. says

    ” Does it not occur to any of the students except Matthew LaClair that proselytising a particular religion in the school classroom is a waste of their time? ”

    My guess?
    For some of them, it
    a)validates their own religious beliefs (which certainly seems to be the case with some of the letter-writers), or/and
    b) means they don’t have to really work or think. Discussion is great (let’s be kind and call what he was doing discussion), but this won’t be on the test, it’s not intellectually challenging, etc. Many kids are quite happy to have the teacher go off on some time-wasting and undemanding tangent.

  18. says

    I love the ignorance of history used to demonstrate our Christian past. This is probably old hat, but: “In God We Trust” was made the national motto (and placed on our currency) in 1956 by an act of Congress during the McCarthy era, to demonstrate our otherness from those godless Communists. Similarly the original Pledge of Allegiance (written by a socialist Baptist minister): “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” later corrupted by the addition of “of the United States of America” and “One Nation Under God”.

  19. says

    Mr. Paszkiewicz, in his public school teaching capacity, is a state actor. Matthew is not. Anyone crying out that Mr. Paszkiwicz’s religious freedoms were abused by Matthew is either very confused and/or just dislikes what Matthew did.


    Did anyone else see this as a no-brainer? It would take me two seconds to corner those idiots at Matthew’s school…

  20. says

    Perhaps I should clarify my previous post. I’m not defending David Paszkiewicz. I’m defending Matthew LaClair, who was accused of “ignoring the First Amendment” by fellow student Greice Coelho.

  21. DBEllis says


    The site you supplied above now has an “In support of Matthew” thread where you can post your messages of support.

  22. Steve M says

    As a history teacher, I have to say that I am completely stunned by this guy who passes himself off as a teacher. His perception of American history is sorely lacking if he insists that the nation was founded on ‘Christian’ principles. There is a reason that our founding documents refer to ‘Divine Providence’ or ‘our Creator,’ rather than a specifically Christian deity. And this gentleman is likely teaching poor history in other ways as well; as a World History teacher, I teach about the rise of man from Australopithicene (spelling, I know!) through Homo sapiens sapiens (from a historical, anthropological perespective). I wonder how he would approach it? And I guess he has no Jewish students?
    I confess that as I teach in a small Southern town, I have had to preface our discussion of early man with a disclaimer about religion and belief, but it has always led to a great conversation about various creation stories and how the scientific origin of man could be compatible with those stories (or not). I realize that for many of you folks, that is still too much religion, but at least it gets them to think!

  23. Calli Arcale says

    I’ve got one better. At my high school, we had a teacher who was *known* to have affairs with students, physically assaulted several students, embezzled district funds, used several school events which he was in charge of to allow his 5-year-old son to perform (no, his son was not a student in the district, and anyway, it was a high school event), and to cap it all off, deliberately neglected to renew his state-mandated teaching license. But the school board did nothing. They were terrified of his gang of supporters. Seriously. He had built up a cult of personality. They finally did fire him over his teaching license, after being absurdly lenient with him, and then elected not to rehire him once he finally got around to renewing the stupid thing. And that’s when I realized *why* the district had been so scared of the man; there were death threats, thefts, and rampant vandalism by his supporters afterwards, though the police were never able to pin down the people who did any of it, thanks to this group being big enough to prevent any effective investigation from taking place. Heck, I was even scared of them….

    I’m not surprised this guy wasn’t fired. Remember, public schools are the embodiment of “of the people, by the people, for the people”. They’re run by an elected board. Based on the reaction to this stupid situation, I’m sure the school board was just as idiotic as the teacher.