Georgia Teacher Suspended For Occult Rituals

The school year isn't beginning well for forty-one-year-old Brian Bown. The social science teacher has worked at a suburban Atlanta school for five years and started the school year on Monday, August 22 by lecturing on the Protestant Reformation during his first period class.

What's wrong with that? By law, Georgia schools must open with a 60-second silent moment each day. At South Gwinnet High School, where Bown teaches, the moment is announced over the school's public address system. Bown feels that the state moment of silence law, adopted by the Georgia General Assembly during the 1994 session, is unconstitutional and a thinly veiled attempt to bring prayer back to public schools. The moment of silence is mandatory. Though Bown allowed students to remain silent, he continued lecturing during the 60 seconds.

Brian Bown was given until Tuesday morning to agree to abide by the law. He was suspended with pay at South Gwinnett High School on Tuesday when he told Principal Delores Hendrix that he would not comply.

Gwinnett County School Superintendent George Thompson recommended that Bown be fired, saying, "All he had to do was stand and be silent. He interfered with the students' rights to participate in the moment of silence." The school board is meeting on September 6 to consider the recommendation for firing Bown. Thompson also declared: "I think it is divisive when a American government teacher openly violates the law in front of students. It could encourage them to do the same thing." According to Thompson, "Mr. Bown's entitled to feel as he thinks is appropriate to feel but he's not entitled to disrupt the opportunity that students have to participate in a state law, something that's important to them."

And what is important about the law? Before the law was adopted, it included the word "prayer" but that was struck out because of fear of legal challenges to the law. Additionally, the Georgia law provides that "the moment of silence shall not prevent student-initiated voluntary school prayer." State Sen. David Scott, one of the law's authors, describes the purpose of the law as being "to increase the values, spirituality, and self-worth of today's young people. We are creating an opportunity for students to reflect and to begin each day with a sense of purpose."

The purpose of the law was just as clear to Bown. He told CNN that:

"Well, if you see the bill, it's clearly in there, silent prayer, and then, of course, they -- dot, dot, dot -- crossed it out and put moment of reflection. So what we have here, the intent is prayer and in my classroom that morning when the class began there were Bibles out on the desk. I think it's abhorrent to force the teachers to preside over something, either actively or passively, which is so obviously unconstitutional and an attempt at chipping away at the law between church and state."

Appearing on ABC's "Good Morning America," Bown claimed asked, "How could I ever ask my students to respect me when I refuse to stand up for what I believe is right?"

On Wednesday, August 24, Bown filed suit in federal court against the moment of silence law, as a violation of separation of state and church. A hearing is scheduled for the morning of Friday, August 26. In the suit, Bown is also asking the court that he be reinstated and given punitive damages and legal fees.

Student reaction to Bown is mixed. One student in his class said, "There were two girls in the class who really wanted to pray, and he just kept talking. I don't think he should be fired, but he should show respect if students want to pray."

@ Origin: American Atheists Online (512) 302-0223 (1:382/1006)

Georgia Teacher Update

Georgia Teacher Cannot Return To Work Yet

On Friday, August 26, a federal judge ruled that Brian Bown, 41, the school teacher suspended for not obeying the Georgia moment of silence, may not return to his job at this time. Bown challenged the law because he felt that its real purpose was to return state-sponsored prayers to the schools.

Bown is a social science teacher at South Gwinnett High School, in the Atlanta area. On Monday, August 22, he lectured during the official moment of silence on the first day of school, even though he had been told by the high school principle that he was not to "disrupt the moment." He was given until the next day to decide to cooperate. When he told the school principle he would not observe the moment of silence, he was suspended. The Gwinnett School Board will hold a hearing on September 6 to determine whether he should be dismissed. Gwinnet School Superintendent George Thompson has already recommended that he be fired for unprofessional conduct.

Bown has filed suit to challenge the constitutionality of the law and seeking reinstatement on his job.

Gwinnett School Superintendent George Thompson dismissed Bown's concerns, saying that "One side wants to argue the constitutionality of the issue, the other side wants to argue the issue of professional conduct." The school's attorney, Phil Hartley, maintained that Bown is in the wrong because "He is not mandated to do anything. A teacher is not required to enforce, implement or enact this law. He chose to disrupt his class, talking with students about his own beliefs and his philosophy. He did this for his own personal reasons."

Bown lectured the students about the Protestant reformation during the 60 second moment of silence.

Rejecting Bown's request for a preliminary injunction against the Gwinnett County School District, U.S. District Judge Frank Hull ruled that Gwinnet County School District did have the right to suspend Bown with pay. According to Hull's decision, Bown "has not proven that his suspension is causing him irreparable harm since he is still being paid by the school system" and that further "threatened harm to Bown at this juncture does not outweigh the harm that would be sustained" by allowing him to return to his job. Bown has also sued to challenge the constitutionality of the moment of silence law.

@ Origin: American Atheists Online (512) 302-0223 (1:382/1006)