This atheist's kids filmed their bus driver preaching on the way to school
The Oregon Department of Education could withhold money from the school district if action isn't taken
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Tim Bartholomew, an atheist in Portland, managed to get the Oregon Department of Education to investigate religious proselytizing on his kids’ school bus, and all it took was a hidden camera.
Bartholomew’s kids attend Faubion School, part of the Portland Public Schools. But shortly after the family moved to Portland earlier this year, the kids told their dad that the bus driver was always talking about Jesus and encouraging children to sing about Him. If they didn’t participate, the driver’s assistant would come sit next to them and “make you feel bad if you’re not singing.”
He asked the school to put a stop to this, but they didn’t do anything. So Bartholomew asked his girls to get a recording of the bus driver in the act of proselytizing.
Despite violating a rule against using phones on the bus, they managed to get a recording, which he posted to YouTube last month.
According to reporter Abe Asher of the Portland Mercury, the school was still unresponsive to his concerns, so Bartholomew contacted the ACLU, which told him to get in touch with the Oregon Department of Education. The ODE, thankfully, has taken the lead even if they can’t get into specifics:
Freddie Mack, communications director for PPS, wrote that the district is “aware” of the complaints made against the driver.
“The situation is being investigated, and we are unable to comment further,” Mack wrote. “We are working closely with our contractor to ensure the adherence of all PPS policies and procedures.”
Marc Siegel, ODE’s communications manager, wrote in an email to the Mercury that ODE is aware of the allegations but cannot comment on “any open or pending investigations.”
Siegel wrote that, under Oregon law, a public school is barred from supporting or engaging in religious activity. If ODE finds that a school district has violated that statute, the repercussions are serious: the department must immediately stop making State School Fund distributions to the district, pending the outcome of a mandatory hearing about the behavior.
The district has a simple solution here: Force that driver to stop preaching while on the clock or lose funding. How hard can this possibly be to investigate? (PPS has apparently spoken with the driver about this issue now on “multiple occasions.”)
The proposed solution doesn’t feel like administrators are taking the matter all that seriously:
The district has also come up with a method for determining how to proceed with possible corrective measures: according to the email, the district will upload bus video footage from 10 to 15 randomly-selected dates since mid-March and watch them back. If they find that the driver ever invoked religion, they will reassign him to another route. If he continues to invoke religion, the email said, he could lose his job.
How many strikes does the Christian get here? There’s already video of him in the act. There are students who can likely attest to what they are pressured to do on the bus. Even if the additional video footage shows him preaching, why would assigning him to a different route solve the problem? Have we learned nothing from the Catholic Church’s mishandling of sexual abuse?!
This is someone who clearly violated the terms of his job. If he was a Muslim or Satanist and told kids to worship with him on the ride to school, would we be seeing this many second and third and fourth chances?
Meanwhile, Bartholomew no longer feels safe putting his girls on that bus, so he’s taking them to school himself. He told the Mercury that he’s not trying to get the driver fired. He just wants the driver to do his job. That’s extremely generous and he’s not asking for much!
It’s the district that doesn’t seem to understand the gravity of the situation, treating a straight-forward violation of the law like a minor error that can be solved through reprimands and a different series of turns and pick-ups.
This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. In 2014, a bus driver in Minnesota was caught inviting kids to pray with him on his route. He was eventually fired… Then, in 2018, working for a different school district, he was caught doing the exact same thing. That driver, George Nathaniel, couldn’t be trusted to do his job. He cared more about forcing his faith on children than getting them to school on time while obeying the law. The driver in Portland appears to be in the same boat.
Incidentally, Bartholomew has launched a group of his own called Rational Atheists United which aims to protect “atheists and rational thinkers from persecution.” You can find more details on his website.
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