In God We Teach evenhandedly explores the issues of separation of church & state through the story of a high school student in Kearny, NJ who secretly recorded his teacher and accused him of proselytizing for Jesus in the classroom. The film examines the blurred lines between personal belief and civil law through the eyes of an average, blue-collar American town within sight of downtown New York.
After approaching the local school board for redress and receiving none, high school student Matthew LaClair took his secretly recorded tapes to the media, accusing his teacher, David Paszkiewicz, of illegally proselytizing for Jesus in the classroom. When the recordings were made public, the story exploded, and engulfing not just Kearny, but citizens across America.
Paszkiewicz, defending himself in a letter to the local newspaper, The Observer, claimed that he was just exercising academic freedom, and expressing his opinions in response to students’ questions (questions he claimed that were asked primarily by LaClair.) In addition, he cited several Founding Fathers’ quotations as justification for his own statements. Otherwise he remained silent…that is, until his appearance here, in this feature-length documentary, “In God We Teach.”
LaClair, on the other hand, became a media and First Amendment darling; giving many interviews and receiving multiple awards, while receiving a less-than-enthusiastic reception from his fellow students and citizens, including a death threat. It was clear that the residents of Kearny seemed to support Paszkiewicz regardless of whether he “crossed the line” or not.
In today’s polarized world, discourse can be strident and discussion difficult. “In God We Teach,” however, endeavors to be even-handed, non-hysterical, and yes, even adult in its tone and aspirations. While both Matthew LaClair and David Paszkiewicz present their views in an interesting and entertaining manner, it is not always comfortable viewing. When the dinner table taboos of politics and religion collide in small-town America, the shockwaves reverberate nationwide.