The Ethical Dilemma: “Cute” Religious Kitsch in Public School Teachers’ Lounge

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Religious Kitsch Not Cool for School: I teach at a public school. In the staff/faculty lounge, an outside private company displays various “cute” items for sale—cookbooks, stationery sets, kids’ toys, novelty kitsch. Among these are Christian books and plaques with Bible verses and other Christian sayings on them.

Not a huge deal, and I guess I can just ignore it as I’ve been doing, but it bothers me that firstly, it’s in my workplace and as a secular humanist I find it mildly offensive, but more importantly to me, my workplace is a public school and I don’t believe these items should be there.

Is this legal? Should I just continue to ignore it or is there a polite way to express to my principal or district that I don’t like it?

—Not Buying

Dear Not,

Although promoting a religion in a public school classroom is clearly against the law, I’m not sure if that extends to the staff/teachers’ lounge since no one is actively proselytizing. On the other hand, setting up religious articles in the school—even if they’re away from student traffic—could itself be an infraction of public school rules. And commercial ventures within the school, if they are not for the benefit of the school, might also be verboten, even if they were strictly secular. For a legal opinion on your specific case, please contact the AHA’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center.

But I’m wondering who is behind this, and why someone is being permitted to peddle products within the school. Even if there were no religious tchotchkes involved, hawking anything could be viewed as an intrusion on the staff/teachers’ lounge, which is supposed to be a haven where adults can retreat from the hubbub of the classrooms and recharge during the day.

I suggest you make some inquiries. Who is behind this enterprise? Maybe someone on the staff is trying to pick up a little extra spending money for themselves or friends or relatives. Is this recognized and sanctioned by the administration, or is it a rogue entrepreneur? Do any of the proceeds go to the school—and if so, who’s checking the books to make sure they’re actually being disbursed? Who decides who can sell what to whom? What, if any, vendor policies are in place?

Then go to the principal or superintendent or whoever is in charge of such matters and state your belief that it’s inappropriate to take up physical and psychic space in the lounge with crass commercialism and, even worse, sectarian trinkets.

If you’re told there’s no problem with this business (especially since not all the items are religious), point out that if that’s so, others must be afforded equal opportunity to peddle stuff (e.g., Tupperware, snacks, candies, pickles, handicrafts, scented candles, Satanic Temple merchandise). Then you and like-minded colleagues can proceed to clutter and stink up the room with additional promotional displays.

I suspect pretty soon free enterprise will give way to a rule prohibiting all soliciting on school property, and your problem will be solved. And if not, maybe you can simultaneously pick up some cash and tidy up your home by holding a yard sale in the lounge.