Godless college

Using “the G word” (God) in a term paper on “Religion and its Place in Government” earned an F for Bethany Hauf, a community college student in Victorville, California. Adjunct English instructor Michael Shefchik had approved the topic on one condition: “No mention of big ‘G’ gods, i.e., one, true god argumentation.”

When she realized this meant a ban on the word “God,” Hauf, who’d titled her report “In God We Trust,” complained to the instructor and then the department chair, Judy Solis.

During a joint meeting between all three the options were laid out: Hand in the report with the “G” word or revise, edit or re-write the paper, Solis said.

“She continued to write her paper,” Solis said. “She knew what the consequences were.”

Hauf acknowledges she knew her teacher’s condition for writing the paper, but argued it would be impossible to write about the affect of Christianity on the development of the United States without using the word God. “He told me you might as well write about the Easter Bunny,” Hauf said. “He wanted to censor the word God.”

When I first read about this story, I was convinced that Hauf had received an F for a poorly written report, but her complaint that “God” was taboo appears to be undisputed by Solis. The instructor wasn’t available for comment.

Despite the failing grade on the paper, Hauf received a C in the English 101 course.

About Joanne


  1. Half Canadian says:

    There’s a chill wind blowing through that campus, stifling the artistic expression of budding wordsmiths.
    Someone call the ACLU!

  2. And you just know the teacher would have allowed “Easter Bunny” to be capitalized.

  3. Ross the Heartless Conservative says:

    OK, someone smarter than me (which would be most of you) explain to me why the instructor is not within bounds this time. I am a conservative Christian but I also believe that willfully refusing to follow reasonable instructions on an assignment is grounds for getting an “F” on the assignment. The student could have chosen a different topic or she could have complied with the instructions as given. She was not forced to advocate a point of view she disagreed with and it sounds like the instructor was willing to be reasonable.

    It seems to me the student got the grade she deserved.

  4. lindenen says:

    Oh, please. This is ludicrous. Don’t college students have free speech rights? How on earth can someone expect a discussion of religion without the use of the word God or god? There’s nothing to defend here.

    “The student could have chosen a different topic or she could have complied with the instructions as given. She was not forced to advocate a point of view she disagreed with and it sounds like the instructor was willing to be reasonable.”

    Ross, there’s also no evidence she could pick a different topic. And she WAS forced to advocate a point of view because she was specifically not allowed to choose the very argumentation the professor banned. The professor specifically disavowed “No mention of big ‘G’ gods, i.e., one, true god argumentation.” She should contact FIRE.

  5. ragnarok says:

    Wonder what would happen if she replaced “God” with “Allah”. Would Shefchik object? Would the ACLU take an interest?

  6. BadaBing says:

    There’s always a way to get around something as “insensitive” as this. Use “Yahweh” or “Lord of Hosts” or “Creator.” Sounds to me like the instructor was taunting the student.

  7. Ross the Heartless Conservative says:

    Thanks for the response. When the article said:

    Hauf first approached her teacher about writing her paper in an April 12 e-mail, according to a 12-page ACLJ paper sent to the college offering legal opinions in favor of Hauf.

    Shefchik wrote her back an e-mail approving her topic choice, but at the same time cautioning her to be objective in her reporting. “I have one limiting factor,” Shefchik wrote, according to the ACLJ. “No mention of big ‘G’ gods, i.e., one, true god argumentation.”

    I interpreted that to mean that she was the one who selected the topic. He approved the topic with a condition attached. She did not honor and the condition and her grade suffered accordingly.

    I agree with you about 99% of the time but this will be one of the 1% of the time. It seems to me that you have it backwards. It was the student who was taunting the professor. He specifically requested no use of “God” and it was in her title and approximately 40 other places in the paper she wrote. She admits that she understood the instructions but she felt that her write to free speak overrides his right to set the topic.

    I did the same type of thing many a time when I was in high school and I had to pay the price many a time as well.

  8. Richard Brandshaft says:

    I consider religion more evil than good, but this instructor was just plain stupid. The Abrahamist god is referred to as “God” in English. That’s a grammar rule. “God” is a proper name, defaulting to the Abrahamist god. Certainly one can comment on language being ethnocentric, and even try to change it. (“Ms.” was a successful change induced for political reasons.) But absent a strong reason to the contrary, papers in American schools are written in English, with the normal rules.

    Good job, even though I disagree with you. You actually applied a principle professed by conservatives and followed it to its logical conclusion, rather then take a knee-jerk swat at the “left wing” atheist. That’s rare anywhere in the political spectrum.

    When you have to defend a law or instructor with the argument that the law, or authority, must be obeyed, that is a sure sign the law, or in this case, the instructor, was stupid. When someone robs a bank, no one says he should be punished because bank robbery is illegal and the law must be enforced.

    The conservative position is that authority should be obeyed, because disrespect for authority weakens the structure of society. The liberal position — which I agree with — is that silly laws and jerks in authority cause disrespect for authority and weaken the structure of society.

  9. Ross the Heartless Conservative says:

    By the way, when I say conservatives or liberals I am referring to people who actually believe in that particular philosophy. Most politicians will shift their beliefs to whatever is convenient at the time. The Republicans maddening positions on medical marijuana and the Terry Schiavo case are two examples where fundamental beliefs were discarded to advance a particular agenda.

  10. Joanne wrote:
    Despite the failing grade on the paper, Hauf received a C in the English 101 course.

    Sounds like she won, to me. She took her complaint up the chain of command, but that didn’t help. She chose to write the paper her way, despite the rulings. She failed on the paper, but passed the course anyway. What better way to tell the athiest professor to go ^@#$ himself?

  11. Matthew Tabor says:

    Does anyone know *why* he asked that she not mention God? I don’t have time today to check the rest of the blogosphere/news, so I hope someone can answer. Most likely the prof. is as this article, a billion blogs, etc. portray him. But…

    When I was teaching university classes I often gave similar assignments – removing such a central concept [yes, I agree that God is awfully important when discussing Christianity] forces students to research/understand certain topics much deeper than if they could use those concepts as starting/return points on which many university-level papers rely.

    I can’t imagine that a CC prof. would have this in mind, but it can make for some interesting challenges – and in turn, interesting papers – for stronger students.

    Disagree? Write a page about Christianity using the term “God” as much as you want. Write another without using it all – and that doesn’t mean substituting terms like “Creator.” You’ll find one more difficult than the other.

  12. I think that she most likely made a C because she made an F on the paper. What does that tell us about the rest of her grades? They were very good.

  13. nstaats says:

    The student deliberately violated the rules, knowing the consequences. She picked a topic that was almost impossible to write about if she wanted to adhere to the rules. She should have picked another topic.

    The rules were outlined, the student knew them in advance, but violated the rules anyway. She deserved what she got.

    In college, your essays are more than just adhering to grammar rules. They just have a point, a coherent thought, have a purpose, and follow the rules set for them.

    Such is life. In life, if I don’t follow the rules, I get a big fat “F” – I get no breaks just because I believe in God.

  14. The teacher was being petty, and letting his own prejudices get in the way of teaching. How can one write about “Religion and its Place in Government” without mentioning the big-G God followed by most religionists?

    And Hauf, IMO, would still have gotten an F if she used terms such as: Creator, the One, Yahweh, Jehovah, Allah, or Brahman.

  15. And I thought the “G” word was “Gifted.”

  16. “No mention of big ‘G’ gods, i.e., one, true god argumentation.”

    If I had said such a thing after approving the topic “Religion and its Place within the Government,” here’s why I would have done it:

    It would be too easy for a student to write something like, “It is self-evident that there is one true God; therefore God has a proper place in government” followed by reformulations of that statement. Regardless of whether that stance is correct or not, reiterations of the same point do not result in a term paper worthy of the name.

    It is quite possible to write about that topic in more than one way without resorting to “one true god argumentation.” (NB: I am not necessarily endorsing these views. I am merely providing examples.)

    A: “The United States was founded by Christians and is still a Christian-dominated nation to this day, centuries later. A democracy should have a government reflecting the beliefs of its people …” (AFAIK, the instructor did not forbid the word “Christian.”)

    B: “The United States has never been religiously uniform, and its religious diversity is increasing every day. If the government is to serve all its people, it cannot favor one religion over another …”

    I should point out that the title of the paper contained the word “religion,” not the name of any particular religion. In an American context, “religion” can be a de facto synonym for “Christianity,” but it need not be, because of the multiple religions that exist in the US. And the student could have referred to other countries’ church (or mosque, temple, etc.) and state policies, so in such circumstances, “religion” need not have involved the big “G” God.

    Although the instructor outlawed the mention of “big ‘G’ gods,” he may have permitted references to gods in general: e.g.,

    A: “The United States government must respect the many gods of its diverse population by implementing the following policies that support their faiths …”


    B: “The United States government must not favor one god over another …”

    Moreover, it would be an error to equate “religion” with “theism” because of Buddhism which is not explicitly theistic.

    Needless to say, I have no idea what the instructor’s motivation was; my point is that his request need not have been unreasonable.

  17. It would be also too easy for a militant atheist student to write something like, “It is self-evident that there is NO one true God; therefore God has NO place in government” followed by reformulations of that statement.

    It is possible though unlikely that the instructor could in fact be pro-religion and does not want (a) such atheist attacks and/or (b) one-note trumpeting of the “obvious” which he may feel is not only inappropriate for a term paper but also a trivialization of his faith.

    The ACLJ’s demand that the instructor “receive some kind of training to sensitize him to the constitutional dimensions of his employment in a public educational institution” reminds me of the Oregon “summer diversity seminar” mentioned in another recent post.

    It is ironic that advocates of free speech want to force someone to think the way they do. Free speech for me, not thee …

  18. Ross the Heartless Conservative says:

    Nice post on July 1, 2005 at 08:10 PM.