Not many news reports carried the story. But somehow it was able to leak. A professor at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton was teaching the course called “Intercultural Communications.” In one exercise to demonstrate the deep-seated emotions that surround issues, the professor asked the students to write Jesus’ name in big letters on a paper, place the paper on the ground and then stomp on the name of Jesus. Ryan Rotela, a junior, refused.

Ryan was polite and sincere. He calmly disagreed with the professor’s request and refused to do the exercise. He paid the consequences for his refusal. Suspension. A university supervisor told him not to return to that class.

After the incident, Florida Atlantic University declined to recognize the inappropriateness of what had taken place. The university made the rather innocuous statement that “While at times the topics discussed may be sensitive, a university environment is a venue for such dialogue and debate.” No apology. No explanation. 

No sensitivity to religious belief. In fact, the contrary. A few days later, under pressure, the university did apologize.

Would that such incidents were rare. Not so! In 1999, some students at Temple University were upset when they discovered that the university was a venue for the play “Corpus Christi.” The play portrays Jesus and his disciples as being gay. To counter such an attack on faith, they organized an alternative play called “Final Destiny.” The university allowed “Corpus Christi,” but not “Final Destiny.”

In a joint report, Texas-based Liberty Institute and Washington-based Family Research Council have catalogued the growing number of anti-religion incidents in our educational system. One federal judge ordered a high school valedictorian to remove any reference to Jesus in her graduation speech. If not, she faced incarceration. On another occasion, a public school official reprimanded an elementary school student for praying over his lunch.

Why this fear of religion? In an address to the 1973 Childhood International Education Seminar, Dr. Chester M. Pierce, Harvard University Professor of Educational Psychiatry, said that “Every child in America entering school at the age of five is insane because he comes to school with certain allegiances to our founding fathers…, toward his parents, toward a belief in a supernatural being… It’s up to … teachers to make all these sick children well…” He sounds much like Freud who labeled religion “a universal obsessional neurosis.”

Today, diversity and tolerance are the shibboleths of our educational system, especially in so many of our universities. But tolerance does not always embrace Christianity. We are witnessing a significant rise in attempts to silence Christians and push Christian values from the public forum. Why? Perhaps something of an answer lies in very nature of Christianity. Christianity claims a unique and, to be frank, an exclusive place among religions. The founders of every other faith have a grave. Jesus does not! His tomb is empty. Only Christians claim that the founder of their faith rose from the dead and is Lord of all. The resurrection of Jesus makes Christians bold in proclaiming Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life. Our modern world, however, wants nothing to do with such absolutes. Our modern world holds that any opinion, any belief, is as true as any other. In such a context, Christians should expect opposition and persecution.

One wonders what the reaction would have been if the Florida Atlantic University professor had asked the students to put a name other than “Jesus” on the slip of paper and then stomp on it. Had he asked them to write “Obama,” undoubtedly he would have provoked a backlash of political criticism. Had he dared suggested “Mohammed,” the media would have widely reported the incident and the reaction would have been strong and, maybe, even violent. The fact that he did suggest the name “Jesus” shows the rising confidence among secularists to assault Christianity.

Martin Luther King once said, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people” (“Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” April 16, 1963). Ryan Rotela was not silent. He took his stand for respecting the name of Jesus and the Christian faith. Surprising enough, he is a Mormon! Imagine what would happen if Catholics were as bold.

Reprinted with permission from The Beacon, official newspaper for the diocese of Paterson, N.J.