Todd Starnes helped promote a story about a California first-grader who allegedly was not allowed to give a one-minute presentation about her family’s Christmas tradition because it included religious references.
As Right Wing Watch has reported, this is not the first time Starnes has been caught pushing poorly sourced stories claiming religious discrimination.
The girl had planned to tell classmates at a Temecula elementary school about her family placing an ornament to represent the Star of Bethlehem atop their Christmas tree, as many families do, and recite a short Bible verse about its meaning, Starnes reported.
He quoted an Advocates for Faith and Family attorney who claimed the girl’s teacher ordered her to take a seat Dec. 19 and wouldn’t allow her to finish.
“The disapproval and hostility that Christian students have come to experience in our nation’s public schools has become epidemic,” said attorney Robert Tyler, warning the family might sue if the school district didn’t apologize and change its policies on religious expression.
The article included a statement from the school district, which confirmed it was investigating the claim, and statements by the principal paraphrased by the girl’s mother.
Starnes did not, however, include any statements from the teacher or the principal, who werecompelled to release their own after the story was picked up by religious groups and publications.
“Over the past week, I have received countless phone calls and 126 mean-spirited emails from across the country as a result of the claims that the Advocates of Faith and Freedom have made against one of my teachers, the school district, and myself,” said Principal Ami Paradise. “These claims are simply not true.”
Other targets of Starnes’ poorly sourced reporting have reported similar harassment.
The girl was the only student who read from a prepared statement during a brief sharing exercise intended to improve students’ public speaking skills, the teacher said, and she asked her to cut short the statement due to limited time.
The teacher denies telling the girl to sit down, instead allowing her to take one question from another student.
“At no time did I ever tell the student that she could not read the bottom section [of her statement] because it was a Bible verse nor did she ask if she could finish,” said teacher Tammy Williams. “I never told her to ‘Stop right there!’ or ‘Go take your seat!’ or reprimand her in front of the class for sharing from the Bible. It just did not happen.”
Paradise said she met with the following day with the girl’s parents, who were upset because they thought she was unable to finish her presentation because of its biblical content.
The principal said neither parent claimed bullying or humiliation by teachers, which she said was made up by the religious legal group, and she has not heard from the parents since presenting her findings about the incident Dec. 24 to the school board.
Paradise said she stood behind the teacher, and both she and Williams complained that Tyler and his group had misrepresented the incident and damaged their reputations.
“What saddens me is that this story was twisted into lies and brought to the media,” Williams said. “I have never sat down and discussed this directly with the family or the student. I am instead being used to push an agenda for the Advocates for Faith and Freedom.”