Boca Raton, Fl - Principal Geoff McKee says he presents his true self: a man who prays to God. However, to the discontentment of various teachers and parents in the Boca Raton High School, McKee has spoken of God several times during staff meetings since he took his position as principal a year ago.
He also tried to start a Bible class for students called Introduction to the Bible, which, although approved by the state, causes parents to question his devotion to a religious-free public education. The class was eventually canceled due to a lack of student interest. Vicki Capitena, a concerned parent and Roman Catholic, complained about the course and states, "He said it was the greatest book ever written and, to me, that shows some prejudice." "I'm not anti-religion in any way. But if I wanted my children to have a religious education, I would have sent them to Pope [John Paul II High School]." McKee said he might try again next year.
"I don't think there's anything wrong or unconstitutional with acknowledging God in public," McKee says. "The president talks about God frequently. I believe it is appropriate for public officials to make references to God as long as a particular church is not being promoted or put down." McKee has referred to public education as "God's work" and has made other references to God at various teacher meetings.
A group of teachers have emerged, criticizing the principal, saying that his religious references make them uncomfortable. Hege Holm-Johannesse, an art teacher at Boca Raton H.S., says "There should be freedom from religion in the workplace," and "He's crossing the boundary all the time."
Michael Carr, spokesman for the National Association of Secondary School Principals says that the line between religion and public education enshrined in the First Amendment seems simple, but in practice, the line is less clear. He goes on to say that a key factor is how much religion the community is willing to tolerate. "He can go as far as he wants until a parent decides he's gone far enough," Carr said.
Area Superintendent and McKee's supervisor, Carole Shetler, said she thinks that he has crossed no ethical boundaries. Teachers and principals are not allowed to proselytize for their religions, but are free to talk about them, she said.
McKee says he constantly has to prove to teachers and parents that he is not biased against other faiths. "I don't believe my role is to condemn or judge others," McKee said. "I know there are people who view themselves as Christians who disagree with me on this." He said he approaches public education with a missionary's zeal. He considers it a "spiritual endeavor" that God has called him to.
McKee said anger from teachers and parents about his comments has forced him to think hard about the intersection of his faith and his work, but he still thinks he should present his authentic self to his constituents. "I pray to God almost continually throughout the day," he said. "I don't have a passion to make others believe like I do. But I am living a God-centered life, and I want to model that."