CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — The mother of a Tennessee middle schooler is claiming a Bible class because the literature included Christian proselytizing and comments offensive to Jews and other non-Christians, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported.
Juniper Russo posted on Facebook that she pulled her eighth-grade student from class after the teacher wrote an English translation of God’s Hebrew name on the whiteboard and told students, “If you want to know how torturing a Jew, make them say that out loud,” according to the post.
“This name is traditionally not spoken aloud and is traditionally written only in the Torah,” Russo wrote. “My daughter felt extremely uncomfortable hearing a teacher explain to her peers ‘how to torture a Jew’ and told me on her way home from school that she did not feel safe in the class.”
Hamilton County Schools released a statement saying the district is investigating a complaint about its Bible History class and “will take appropriate action based on the findings of this review.”
Russo said she also reported the incident to the Anti-Defamation League.
Russo wrote on Facebook that his daughter signed up for the Bible course because other electives were not available to her due to a disability. Her daughter was uncomfortable answering homework questions such as, “Do you read the Bible at home?” because she didn’t want to be called Jewish, Russo wrote.
Russo said that in addition to anti-Semitic comments, the teacher taught the Genesis creation story as a factual history of the formation of the universe. The teacher also told the class the story of an atheist student who allegedly “took up the class to ‘prove him wrong’ and ended up ‘realizing it was true,'” Russo wrote.
The class is part of a century-old Bible in Schools program that is currently taught in 29 public schools in Hamilton County, according to the organization’s website. It says classes are “non-sectarian” and teachers are “required to teach from a neutral perspective and adhere to a court-approved curriculum.”
The nonprofit organization reimburses the school district for the operation of the program. For the 2020-2021 school year, the program gave the school system $1.8 million. Cathy Scott, president of Bible in the Schools, directed all questions to schools in Hamilton County.
Michael Dzik, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Chattanooga, released a statement saying they looked forward to a dialogue with the Bible in Schools organization. “Furthermore, we hope they will use this as an opportunity to reflect on and evaluate both their curriculum and the way their teachers present the material to ensure that these classes are educational and not indoctrinating,” says the communicated.
Russo said the school took her concerns seriously, but the Bible teacher refused to meet with her or the Jewish Federation of Greater Chattanooga to discuss the program.
“How can we say our schools have zero tolerance for bullying if a teacher actually teaches students how to do it?” Russo wrote.