Stuy H.S. Christian display irked students, parents

BY CARON SHAPIRO | At Stuyvesant High School, a display case of Christian evangelical materials doesn’t seem quite kosher to some parents and students.

It’s located near the auditorium where you might expect to find school football or debating trophies. The outfacing books in the exhibit, such as “The Case for Christ” and “Why Become a Christian,” are flanked by a cute photo of fuzzy baby ducklings with a quote from the New Testament, and a cuddly teddy bear wearing a cross.

“I think this must be pressuring the younger students who are new to the school, especially,” said Virginia Moore, the parent of a freshman girl. “I am surprised that such a Christian display is allowed in a public school. With the lighting and the positioning of the display, it almost seems that it is sanctified.”

A display of Christian books has been located near the Stuyvesant High School auditorium in a space also used for prayer by Muslim students. (Photo by Caron Shapiro)

Further muddying the holy waters is the fact that the missionary presentation is in the middle of the Muslim students’ longtime worship circle, as marked by a sheet of paper reading, “This Area Reserved for Prayer, Eighth Period” and a photo of Muslim prayer.

“There are many kids during the month of Ramadan and generally during Friday prayers,” said Syeda Jarrath, a new graduate. “Praying together is always nice.”

Christian books in the Stuy Seekers’ display case. (Photo by Caron Shapiro)

Rashid Rafit, another recent Stuy graduate, said some Muslim students claim the display is an attempt to interest them in Christianity. He personally prefers to give the Christian group the benefit of the doubt, though.

“I think placing the books was done because they thought the location there was for religious expression,” Rafit said, adding, “but I sometimes have an optimistic view of Stuy.”

A Christian proselytizing book and CD in the display case. (Photo by Caron Shapiro)

The exhibit is run by the Stuy Seekers, a student Christian group whose stated Facebook purpose includes outreach to “nonbelievers.” They also hold an annual “Jesus Day” in the school cafeteria, giving out Bibles, along with free food, to students who are “stressed about the SAT’s.”

New York City education attorney Shelley Stangler said these practices are problematic.

A quote from the New Testament, with cute fuzzy ducklings, in the Christian display case. (Photo by Caron Shapiro)

“Students are allowed to have religious clubs,” Stangler said, “but reasonable restrictions, in terms of seeking out adherents, can be imposed if they are making students uncomfortable. It’s like the banner rule. You can picket an abortion clinic across the street, but you can’t picket right outside the front door and upset patients. So the display doesn’t have to be in a public hallway if other students walking by find this disturbing.”

Stuy parent Moore said the display case displayed a case of poor judgment and interfered with her family’s Catholic practice.

A Bible and a journalist’s personal account of his Christian faith. (Photo by Caron Shapiro)

“Is someone else proselytizing to my child on school grounds?” she asked. “Why wasn’t I, and the other parents, consulted about this?”

As a direct result of this reporter’s investigation, Danielle Filson, the deputy secretary of the New York City Department of Education, said the display would be dismantled.

The Christian display case has been located right in the middle of the high school’s space for Muslim students to pray. (Photo by Caron Shapiro)

Filson gave a D.O.E. statement on the issue, saying, “We respect and value students’ freedom of expression. We will store materials for all student clubs in a closed area at the start of this school year.”

The Stuy Seekers, and the adult regional organization that supervises them, did not return calls or e-mails requesting comment.

A sign at Stuyvesant High School’s Muslim worship space instructing adherents on what prayers to say before and after wudu, a ritual cleansing before formal prayers. (Photo by Caron Shapiro)

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