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February 6, 2022 6:31 pm

Jewish Parent Removes Daughter From Tennessee School’s Bible Class Over Alleged Proselytization, Offensive Remarks

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An open English-language version of the Bible. Photo: Pixabay

A Jewish parent withdrew her daughter from a Bible class offered in a public school in Hamilton County, Tennessee, saying it included offensive remarks and overt proselytizing.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported that Juniper Russo, who is Jewish, referred to the eighth-grade class as “blatant Christian proselytizing” in a Facebook post, and said the teacher had written out a transliteration of the Hebrew name of God.

The teacher then “told her students, ‘If you want to know how to torture a Jew, make them say this out loud,'” according to Russo.

Speaking the tetragrammaton — the four-letter name of God in the Hebrew Bible — is forbidden in Judaism, and writing it in any form is frowned upon.

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“My daughter felt extremely uncomfortable hearing a teacher instruct her peers on ‘how to torture a Jew’ and told me when she came home from school that she didn’t feel safe in the class,” Russo recounted. As a result, “I drew a hard line and withdrew my daughter from Bible class when it actually turned hostile.”

Russo claimed that the class was already problematic before the incident. While being billed as non-religious and ecumenical in nature, Russo said that religious doctrine was taught. “The teacher told them a story about an atheist student who took the class to ‘prove it wrong’ and later ended up ‘realizing it was true,’ which is certainly not in line with teaching the text as literature,” she said.

Russo said she attempted to engage the teacher, but was refused a meeting.

The classes were sponsored by a group called Bible in the Schools, which reimburses the school district for the cost of its program. It calls its classes “non-sectarian” and “viewpoint neutral.”

Michael Dzik, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Chattanooga, said, “We look forward to a healthy dialogue with the Bible in the Schools organization. Additionally, we hope they use this as an opportunity to reflect on and assess both their curriculum and how their teachers are presenting the material to ensure these classes are education, not indoctrination.”

Steve Doremus, communications officer for Hamilton County Schools, said that the district is “committed to ensuring that our students and staff experience a climate of belonging and support.”

“In accordance with school board policy, the district is investigating the complaint,” he said. “When completed, HCS will take appropriate steps based on the findings of that review.”

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