My New Times colleague Brandon K. Thorp managed to reach the Rev. O'Neal Dozier today to ask him about the holy-water splashing incident that is the basis for the meeting today between Dozier and pastors from a dozen other local churches. Here's what Dozier said:
"It's so simple. It doesn't merit a discussion -- I don't know why everybody's in an uproar. What you had here was a group of teachers -- you had one teacher, who is an atheist, who doesn't believe in God, dealing with a classroom full of kids -- saying that God is not real, that there is no god. And the other two teachers came into the room and stood in the doorway of the classroom, and they said, yes, God is real. And in the midst of the discussion, one of the teachers who was suspended said to the atheist teacher -- she simply said, 'You need some holy water sprinkled on you.' So she reached into her purse and made like to pretend it was holy water -- she didn't sprinkle nothing. These teachers were friends, see, and I think they went from there and had lunch together and everything. They were friendly. But subsequently, that atheist teacher filed a complaint with the Broward school system.
More from Dozier after the jump.
Thorp asked Dozier whether in the pastor's opinion atheists should be allowed to teach at Broward public schools. Said Dozier:
"Oh yeah! Oh definitely -- atheists can be teachers. Sure they should! ... Look, I believe in the First Amendment, and that says we have freedom of speech. People shouldn't be punished for their expressions! This teacher should have the right to say -- even in the classroom -- "Yes, I am an atheist, I don't believe in God." And the kids should have a right to say, "Well, I do believe in God!'"
It's been hard to get details about how exactly the teacher broached the subject of religion with the students. According to Dozier:
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
"... Now, this came up because of a discussion of what happened in Haiti -- the kids were saying, see, that Haiti had made a deal with the devil, and that's why there was an earthquake... and that led to the discussion about God. Fine!... It's a debate. Let's talk about it! My gosh, if we all got mad at people who said things we didn't like, why, we'd all be isolated -- we'd all be mad at each other!"
As for the purpose of the pastors' summit that Dozier's hosting one hour from now?
"What we're doing is we're putting a different face on this: The Christian body is under attack, and we must stand in defense of those who are defending the gospel. See, we believe God exists -- and no holy water was thrown! If it was thrown, it would have thrown this into a whole other category! -- but since no holy water was thrown, and since that is known to the principal, is known to the school system -- and how do they know? They know by interviewing students, and not a one of them saw anything come out of that bottle -- so if nothing came out of the bottle, what is the controversy? That discussion can only be about religion. Does God exist?"
I had the chance to talk to the Broward Teachers Union this afternoon. Stay tuned. I'll be making another post with what I learned from that chat.