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After student raises ire over teacher telling class disbelievers 'going to hell,' he faces death threats
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Published: Tuesday February 20, 2007
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A New Jersey student enmeshed in a classroom dispute over religion is attracting allies in his defense, The New York Times reports.

Matthew LaClair, a 16-year-old junior at Kearny High School, "drew some legal heavyweights into his battle with school officials over a teacher's proselytizing in class," writes Patrick McGeehan for the Times.

Representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union and the People for the American Way Foundation, along with a Manhattan law firm partner, stood with LaClair "as he and his family threatened to sue the Kearny Board of Education if their complaints are not resolved," McGeehan says.

LaClair taped a teacher of his saying to students in a history class "that if they do not believe that Jesus died for their sins, they 'belong in hell,'" writes McGeehan.

On the same recordings, the article continues, the teacher is heard telling the students "that there were dinosaurs aboard Noah's ark and that there is no scientific basis for evolution or the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe."

LaClair has reportedly been "the target of harassment and a death threat from fellow students and 'retaliation' by school officials who have treated him, not the teacher, as the problem," McGeehan says.

Excerpts from the Times article, available in full here, follow...

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Matthew and his parents, Paul and Debra LaClair, are demanding an apology to Matthew and public correction of some of Mr. Paszkiewicz's statements in class.

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Richard Mancino, a partner with Willkie Farr & Gallagher, which is representing the family, said he did not understand why school officials would not “stand up for this student, who had the guts to raise this constitutional issue.” Instead, Mr. Mancino said, they appear “to have adopted a shoot-the-messenger policy.”

Angelo J. Genova, a lawyer in Livingston, N.J., who is representing the school board, said Kearny school officials had addressed Matthew’s complaints and had reaffirmed their commitment to the separation of church and state in the classroom.

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The district would not disclose what action it had taken against Mr. Paszkiewicz, who is teaching the same course to a different group of students. He has taught in the district for 14 years.

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