Proselytizing In History Class

A recent New York Times editorial calls attention to the actions of David Paszkiewicz, a teacher at Kearny High School in New Jersey, who has been using class time when he should have been teaching U.S. History to tell his students that they are going to hell if they “reject [Jesus’] gift of salvation.”

Matthew LaClair, a student in Paszkiewicz’s class, feared that nobody would believe him if he complained about the teacher’s proselytizing – so he tape recorded it:

”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.”

When LaClair brought Paszkiewicz’s inappropriate use of class time to the attention of the school principal , Paszkiewicz denied it – as LaClair recently explained to CNN’s Anderson Cooper [Watch the video of this segment: Broadband or Dial-Up]:

LACLAIR: Well, at this point after I’d recorded a few days of the class, I brought it to the attention of the principal. I was sick for a week so I was out. And then when I came back, you know, the principal had known about this issue. Did not know about the recordings, however.

After I chased him down for about two weeks to get some other kind of meeting with me and Mr. Pasziewicz [sic] and a few others in that meeting. We had the meeting, and in that meeting he denied ever making any of these statements.

COOPER: Wait, wait. So the teacher who said this stuff, he denied it?

LACLAIR: He denied almost every single thing.

COOPER: What did he deny? That…

LACLAIR: Well, the main one was that he denied that he ever said that if you reject the Lord’s salvation you belong the hell. He said that he would not even say that in his own church, which, of course, was not true.

And at this point they did not know I had the recordings of the class until, of course, I produced them.

COOPER: So after a lengthy meeting in which this teacher has denied saying this stuff, you say, “Well, I actually have a tape”?

LACLAIR: Exactly. And again, you know, I would have gone to the teacher originally if I thought that would solve the problem. But I had a feeling that it would be — he would stop in my class but what about the rest of the other classes?

While Paszkiewicz has been backed by some students and citizens, he does not appear to be getting much organizational support from the Right: 

Even some legal organizations that often champion the expression of religious beliefs are hesitant to support Mr. Paszkiewicz.

“It’s proselytizing, and the courts have been pretty clear you can’t do that,” said John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, a group that provides legal services in religious freedom cases. “You can’t step across the line and proselytize, and that’s what he’s done here.”