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After forcing student to wash off Ash Wednesday cross, Utah teacher now on leave

After forcing student to wash off Ash Wednesday cross, Utah teacher now on leave

“They saw the teacher wipe it off because they wiped it off in front of all my friends,” William said. “I felt, like, really bad.”

Like millions of Catholics this past Wednesday, I attended Mass and began the season of Lent by having an ash cross marked on my forehead.

One student who also observed Ash Wednesday and went to school with an ash cross was forced to wash it off by a teacher, despite pleas from the boy that it was a symbol of his faith.

This teacher is now on leave.

A Utah school district has placed a teacher on administrative leave for forcing a 9-year-old student to remove the cross of ashes from his forehead on Ash Wednesday.

Student William McLeod, who is Catholic, was left crying and embarrassed by the experience in a Davis School District classroom, grandmother Karen Fisher said. The teacher told McLeod that the cross was inappropriate and forced him to wash it off, according to Fisher’s account of the incident.

“We take the matter very seriously and are investigating the situation. The teacher is currently on administrative leave,” Davis School District spokesman Christopher Williams told USA TODAY in a written statement on Thursday.

“We are sorry about what happened and apologize to the student and the family for the teacher’s actions. The actions were unacceptable. No student should ever be asked or required to remove an ash cross from his or her forehead,” the statement reads.

And while this seems like a small victory for freedom of speech and freedom of religion in this country, it doesn’t diminish how upsetting this experience was for McLeod.

“The teacher walked over and said like, ‘What is that?’ And I was like it’s Ash Wednesday, and I’m Catholic. It’s the first day of Lent and was like, ‘No, it’s inappropriate. Go take it off,’” William said.

His attempt to explain the meaning of the symbol fell on deaf ears.

“She took me aside and she said, ‘You have to take it off.’ So she gave me a de-infection wipe, whatever they are called, and she made me wipe it off,” William said.

He said it happened as many of his classmates watched.

“They saw the teacher wipe it off because they wiped it off in front of all my friends,” William said. “I felt, like, really bad.”

The school’s principal called William’s grandmother as soon as she learned of the incident.

The teacher, who the AP identified as Moana Patterson, also called.

“I was pretty upset,” Karen Fisher said. “I asked her if she read the Constitution with the First Amendment and she said, ‘No’ and ‘Ohhhh.’”

Interestingly, the coverage of the story seems to be limited to Fox News, local stations, and Christian media. One has to wonder what would have happened if a similar situation arose with a practice being followed by a Muslim or Wiccan student? Would it have been a press firestorm pointing out how deplorable a red state educational institution is?

It appears that President Donald Trump will be making free speech in higher education a key plank on his re-election platform. Based on the approach being taken by this nation’s educators, his timing could not be more perfect.


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Freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. Communist teachers hardest hit.

I’ve heard from a few Christians who lived in Utah that it can be a tough place for non-Mormons. Ash Wednesday isn’t exclusive to Catholics – it was observed by some of the protestant churches where I used to live in the rural mid-west, including my former church.

It’s meaning was special to me, in as much as scripture says the Lord will write His Name upon our foreheads (Revelation) which I take to mean He is renewing our minds with the ‘mind of Christ’. A lovely reminder of who it is that paid the price for us to live.

    n.n in reply to MrE. | March 9, 2019 at 5:13 pm

    It’s not the LDS, who have been traditionally tolerant of other faiths, religions, traditions, and even the transgendered (e.g. homosexuals). It is a new breed that emigrated from dysfunctional states and arrived in Utah in good times ready to assert their original practices. So, the cycle begins anew.

      elle in reply to n.n. | March 10, 2019 at 11:13 am

      yep. Out of their element and surrounded by the more friendly and tolerant red state folks, they just look like mean ol’ cat ladies and bit**y men.

    n.n in reply to MrE. | March 9, 2019 at 5:15 pm

    Then there are the LDS who go along to get along on faith and contribute to its progress.

      MrE in reply to n.n. | March 9, 2019 at 5:28 pm

      I’m guilty of that, too. Conflict avoidance only leads to a bigger conflict later, or surrender.

    Tiki in reply to MrE. | March 9, 2019 at 5:33 pm

    A Mormon teacher would never forcibly remove an Ash Wednesday cross from the forehead of a Catholic. Period. Never. Check yourself before imply things like that.

    I’ve personally heard Catholics and people of other faiths run down Mormons as ‘cultists’ and make bigoted and ignorant remarks about ‘magic underwear’ etc etc.

    I see exactly these sort of smears on conservative sites like this one or AoSHQ whenever Mitt Romney’s name is mentioned.

      MrE in reply to Tiki. | March 9, 2019 at 6:09 pm

      Do you know for a fact Moana is not a Mormon?

      There is a Moana Patterson of Ogden, age 60, on about whom it says her: “religious views are listed as Christian, ethnicity is African American, and political affiliation is currently a registered Republican.”

      So Google turned up countless articles about the incident and every one of the 6 I read mention the Mormon angle. Several claim 2/3rds of Utah residents identify as Mormon and 10% as Catholic.

      Curious that the teacher identifies as a black Christian republican. That’s quite the unusual combination, especially in Utah.

      MrE in reply to Tiki. | March 9, 2019 at 6:44 pm

      Okay … so last comment, I promise. MyLife must list a different Moana Patterson. She’s middle-aged and white per her school district web page at

      Patterson is her married name; her maiden name was Dowdle. This obituary for Moana Patterson’s sister says their parents and sister(s) were LDS missionaries who served on a 3.5 year mission trip to Tongan Islands in the South Pacific.

      Clearly, the teacher was raised Mormon and I would suspect had the student remove the cross so as not to offend or confuse the other students, many of whom are probably Mormon.

      SpaceInvader in reply to Tiki. | March 9, 2019 at 7:35 pm

      Being Utah many would assume its a Mormon. If it is a mormon it certainly is not the position of the church to be against Catholics. The mormons partner with the Catholics all the time. Such as fighting against gay marriage in California. The mormons put up the money and the Catholics put their name behind the movement.

      maxmillion in reply to Tiki. | March 9, 2019 at 11:09 pm

      You had me from hello until you invoked the name Romney, ostensibly as a shield. Distaste for Romney ought not be conflated with anti-Mormon bigotry.

      ahad haamoratsim in reply to Tiki. | March 11, 2019 at 3:35 pm

      The magic underwear remarks are disgusting.
      As one who wears ritual fringes on a garment beneath my shirt, I have found them doubly offensive.

Is this a new thing? I never saw anybody parading ash decorations around in school . . . even when I was in a Catholic prison camp school. It sounds excessively ostentatious, at least according to the Catholicism I happen to remember.

    legacyrepublican in reply to tom_swift. | March 9, 2019 at 4:59 pm

    I think that was then, this is now.

    Back then, it was okay to be Catholic ( or just Christian ) in school and celebrate Christmas with songs about the virgin birth and the incarnation. Back then, you didn’t flaunt your religion because you didn’t have to.

    Today, if you don’t, you will lose the right.

    Rab in reply to tom_swift. | March 9, 2019 at 5:10 pm

    “I never saw anybody parading ash decorations around in school.”

    With regard to many of your insightful comments on LI, I find myself in agreement with you.

    Maybe I’m reading your comments here incorrectly, or maybe they’re too vague. But this sentence of yours is ridiculous. Parading? Decorations? Just how much DO you hate religious displays?

      MrE in reply to Rab. | March 9, 2019 at 5:37 pm

      Not unexpected from a former Catholic. Why, just substitute the word Presbyterian for Catholic and I’ve made near identical comments … 😉 And don’t get me started on smoking, a habit of which I am a former practitioner. 😀

    gospace in reply to tom_swift. | March 9, 2019 at 5:28 pm

    I’m 63. I’m not Catholic. I’ve seen it my whole life. Along with the fact that during Lent, school meals, then later, Navy meals, would be fish on Friday. I assume that’s true of most institutional meals.

    In the Navy it would generally be 3 X 5 fish, or triangle fish. I preferred the triangle….

      B Buchanan in reply to gospace. | March 9, 2019 at 11:59 pm

      In the ‘60’s I grew up in Saratoga Ca, a (used to be at least) small conservative community in the SF Bay Area. I remember the Catholic kids coming to school on Ash Wednesday with a smudge on their foreheads. I also remember the Jewish kids getting extra holidays the rest of us didn’t get – we all thought they were so lucky. I don’t recall anyone being mocked for their religion or it even being a topic of conversation, except when someone was curious about something. In fact, I remember my school days as being amazingly tolerant of others but of course I must be wrong. I hear all the time how horribly bigoted and prejudiced the 60’s actually were.

      Sweetest memory was Mr Zapelli closing the school Christmas program each year by singing “I Wonder As I Wonder”. It was impressed upon us students how fortunate we were to get to hear him sing. I’m afraid those days are never coming back.

        gospace in reply to B Buchanan. | March 10, 2019 at 1:57 am

        No, you’re not misremembering. The people who grew up in the United States the late 1950-1960 era who became adults in the early 1970s are likely the least prejudiced cohort of people, ever. And there’s a reason for this.

        All the institutions in our life during that era taught us the same lesson. People are the same. Blacks, whites, Asians, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Moslems, all were the same and wanted the same things. A loving family, a good neighborhood, a decent education, and so on. We were told that in school. We were told that church and Sunday School. We were taught that in Cub Scouts and Brownies. It was a big lie, but it’s what we were taught. It’s hard wired into children- same is good, different is bad. There’s no way around that programming until the Age of Reason is reached. (and I’m convinced some people never reach that age- but that’s another thing entirely.)

        It was in the mid 1970s when that switched. The powers that be decided that all teaching should be done to make people respect differences. Well, guess what? It doesn’t work. If you tell a bunch of little children that groups are different, that blacks and whites like different music- you’e just told them there’s something not right about the others– because same is good, different is bad. Doesn’t matter how often or hard you tell them difference is good- the hard wiring says different is bad. It’s essential for survival. In the village are dogs. If a lion or tiger or bear shows up in the village- it’s not a dog. It’s different. Children will instinctively hide from it, not approach it. A good thing.

        The diversity industry will never admit their approach is wrong. Everyone knows “Diversity is Our Strength” is a big lie. Everyone. Including all the people working in the diversity industry. Teams that work together smoothly have things in common, not differences. Teams that accomplish things have things in common, not great differences. This nation was founded with the motto “E Pluribus Unum, From Many, One. Melding everyone into Americans regardless of where they came from. Printing ballots in 29 different languages ensures that those who don’t speak English will never be part of the mainstream of society. You can’t join a people if you can’t communicate with them.

          elle in reply to gospace. | March 10, 2019 at 11:31 am

          I remember listening to the car radio and one of the race hustlers was making a big deal about white privilege yada, yada. I had a 2nd grader in the car whose best friend was black. It was her first introduction to the idea that black people are different and somehow inferior. Sad the damage these people do. Turned it off, but if the hustlers didn’t keep reintroducing the idea, the new generations would have moved on years ago.

    Sanddog in reply to tom_swift. | March 9, 2019 at 7:24 pm

    I never saw it in Georgia but that was Southern Baptist land. Here in NM, it’s been common practice for generations.

    WestRock in reply to tom_swift. | March 9, 2019 at 7:41 pm

    Maybe it depends upon where you grew up. In Rhode Island there were tons of Catholics. I was just saying the other day that growing up I knew people who were Catholic (Irish or Italian), Protestants, and Jews. I had no idea there were Christians that weren’t Catholic until I ventured out on my own! (It wasn’t something I was curious about.)

    It was common in Southern New England, prob’ly still is.

      gospace in reply to WestRock. | March 9, 2019 at 10:02 pm

      Wait a minute—- you knew people who were Protestant, but you didn’t know they were Christian? Huh?

        WestRock in reply to gospace. | March 10, 2019 at 8:23 am

        Yeah, I know, right? It makes me look stupid. Being Jewish our family didn’t have “Comparative Religious Studies 101” as a requirement. We knew about our beliefs and just enough to get by w.r.t. other’s.

        I aged and learned more, and have encountered an awful lot of Christians that, for example, had no clue what Palm Sunday was. We can’t all know everything and we can always learn more. Even my parents – approaching their 90’s – learn something new every day.

        (What happened to this young man was unfortunate, BTW.)

    txvet2 in reply to tom_swift. | March 9, 2019 at 9:23 pm

    I grew up in a town that was about half Italian, and on Ash Wednesday about half the kids came to school with ash on their forehead.

    DieJustAsHappy in reply to tom_swift. | March 9, 2019 at 10:29 pm

    The Imposition of Ashes on the forehead of the faithful is a practice that dates from the Middle Ages. Roman Catholics, the Orthodox, Anglicans, some Protestant denominations, and Episcopalians observe this ritual.

    Most often, the phrase “Remember that you are dust, and that to dust you shall return” is spoken as the sign of a cross in made with ashes on the forehead of worshiper. Some persons remove the ashes immediately after the service while others don’t do so until the next time they bathe.

    Amiable Dorsai in reply to tom_swift. | March 9, 2019 at 11:12 pm

    Back in the sixties, the kids from the Catholic school in my neighborhood always had (to my young and ignorant eyes) smudges on their foreheads every Ash Wednesday, My Lutheran pastor explained to me what was going on. Not new.

    I attended parochial school taught by nuns. Students who attended the brief Ash Wednesday ritual right before school started would return with the ash cross on their foreheads. It wasn’t mandatory.

    Either we are free to practice our religion or we aren’t. This used to be a free country. Today, we are all hounded by a new breed of angry radical puritans horribly misnamed “social justice warriors”. I’m just about ready to become another kind of warrior.

    ahad haamoratsim in reply to tom_swift. | March 11, 2019 at 3:38 pm

    Maybe there weren’t a lot of Catholic kids at your school. I first encountered it in college, but the Catholic kids at my high school were from families who for whatever reason did not send them to the Catholic high schools.

“Administrative leave”

Is that code for “we approve, but can’t let you know that”?

Fire the teacher, she has no business teaching children. She purposely embarrassed this child because she is a mean fucking bitch communist.

    irv in reply to Barry. | March 9, 2019 at 7:32 pm

    No. Administrative leave usually means, “If we fire her outright the union will have our heads. We have to lay a paper trail first, write up some reports, maybe have some kind of hearing, THEN do what we were planning on doing all along.”

      Another Voice in reply to irv. | March 10, 2019 at 10:51 am

      The average time to permanently remove a teacher in NYS is 3 years of mediation between Admin and Union. The effective rate for that process is less than 30%. The cost in legal can run a hefty amount with no guarantee. What they do is move the teacher to a “rubber room” and for an Admin is to prevail their resignation by giving a a glowing recommendation and help them find another district. One other tactic to remove a teacher or admin when and if applicable is to eliminate the “titled position”. So goes the position, so follows the removal of the employee.

I am from Louisiana, not Catholic, but can assure that the Catholics take lent very seriously.

My favorite thing during lent is that part about fish on Fridays. I LOVE fish and could eat it three times a day, at least for a few days 🙂

The renegade teacher has no place in public schools. Save the children, keep them away from the Department of Education.

    Milhouse in reply to NotKennedy. | March 9, 2019 at 10:56 pm

    My favorite thing during lent is that part about fish on Fridays. I LOVE fish and could eat it three times a day, at least for a few days ????

    Doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose of Lent, though? (Jews do “Lent” on the first nine days of Av, which is usually in late July or early August, and I have the same objection to those who do fancy fish or cheese meals that are better than the meat meals they might otherwise have had.)

I grew up in N. Fl, 8 miles from AL. And I went to public school in the late 50’s and 60’s.

We had fish for lunch in school on Friday, of EVERY WEEK OF THE YEAR. Every year.

    SC Reader in reply to DCP. | March 9, 2019 at 8:14 pm

    At my school we had fish every Friday as well, even though there were actually some years when there were no Catholic students attending the school.

    Milhouse in reply to DCP. | March 9, 2019 at 10:57 pm

    Yes, that was before the Catholics changed their rules.

VaGentleman | March 9, 2019 at 6:00 pm

“I was pretty upset,” Karen Fisher said. “I asked her if she read the Constitution with the First Amendment and she said, ‘No’ and ‘Ohhhh.’”

A grade school teacher who never read the Constitution. That’s what happens when your hire teachers who were educated in a foreign country – like NY, CA, MA etc. (Apologies / condolences to American expats who live in those areas.)

    Milhouse in reply to VaGentleman. | March 9, 2019 at 11:05 pm

    Yes, but this teacher seems to be native Utahn. And what about the teacher in Oregon this week who yelled at a student for exercising his right not to say the pledge of allegiance. Also not an immigrant from NY, CA, MA, etc., and also clearly never read the constitution. Or the teacher in Florida who made such a scene with a kid who rightly refused to say the pledge, that the kid got arrested. It looks like ignorance of the first amendment is widespread.

      VaGentleman in reply to Milhouse. | March 10, 2019 at 12:07 am

      My point exactly. The geography of America continues to shrink. Soon it will exist only in our minds as a memory.

      The greatest failure of conservativism is allowing the left to take control of the educational system. Nothing we do really matters until we correct that failure.

    elliesmom in reply to VaGentleman. | March 10, 2019 at 9:36 am

    You can’t get a teaching certificate in the state of MA unless you have taken a history class that includes the study of the US Constitution. There’s no oath-swearing allegiance to it required, but you have know what it says. MA teachers who decline to follow the Constitution in their classroom cannot claim it’s out of ignorance. Which makes the sin of discarding what it says greater, not lesser.

      VaGentleman in reply to elliesmom. | March 10, 2019 at 1:11 pm

      You can’t get a teaching certificate in the state of MA unless you have taken a history class that includes the study of the US Constitution.

      THE question is: what are they taught in the class? It appears to be the constitution as re-interpreted by the liberals.

THe teacher that had the kid wipe it off had to be living under a rock to not know what the ash means and it’s association with Catholics. I remember asking my parents “what the heck the black smear was on some lady’s head”. After a lesson in how NOT to talk about people, Ash Wednesday and the display was explained. I was maybe 7 or 8 at the time.

Democrats like their sheep illiterate! Even those who graduate college and become teachers..

“Constitution” we don’t need no stinkin’ “Constitution”!

Richard Aubrey | March 10, 2019 at 10:40 am

We’re supposed to believe that, 1, the teacher was so clueless she didn’t know about this. 2. after the kid explained it, she didn’t recall having heard about it, and, 3, thought a forehead smudge was “inappropriate”.

Why would a forehead smudge be considered inappropriate UNLESS she knew of the religious background?

So, we either believe a confluence of extraordinarily unlikely items in a supposedly educated adult. Or we pick harassing a kid on religious grounds.

How fast would she have been to pull a girl’s hijab or a Sikh’s kirpan?

Speaking of fish fridays. When in second grade in a small rural town at the tip of southern Illinois very near the Tennessee and Kentucky borders, my brother and I were probably the only catholic kids in the school. The school lunch routine ALWAYS included fish one day a week, usually around Wednesday. Fridays were usually sloppy joe’s. So my brother and I couldn’t eat a hot lunch on Fridays.

My mother went to the school and asked them that since they always served fish once per week could they just make fish day on Fridays, so we could eat lunch. The school was kind enough to make the change. I never thought about it being a big deal until one day a janitor at the school gave me some lip (don’t really remember what he said). But the jist of what he said was along the lines of my brother and I were forcing protestants to observe a catholic tradition by having fish day on Fridays. There were many protestants apparently who hated the catholics back then. Some still exist today.

I’m sorry, but I can’t really get too worked up about this incident.

The use of ash to draw a cross on the forehead of a Catholic adherent is a historically long-standing church ritual. Even if the teacher did not know its significance, having been informed of it, she should have merely left it alone. It would not be particularly disruptive to the class. If she felt that it might lead to complaints from other parents, she should have consulted an administrator to make the decision. Instead, she made the unilateral decision to wash the soot from the young man’s forehead. An interesting sign of the times is the REACTION to this.

In years past, the child would most likely not have been concerned at having to remove the soot. After all, most children used to like to fit in, with their peers, at school. And, the soot was going to be removed sooner or later anyway. And, parents had more pressing matters to attend to than a soot cross being removed from their child’s forehead, at school. Also, most of my Catholic friends, who attended an Ash Wednesday mass where they received an ash cross from the priest, did so after public school, not before. If a child did appear in school with such a cross on his or her forehead, it was usually ignored and a request to the parents to refrain from such a display in the future, especially if proved to be disruptive.

In this case, the child was not sent home. He was not driven from the school with whips. There is no evidence that he was subjected to any persecution, either before, after or during the removal of the ash. He was not sent to the office, given detention.suspended or punished in any way. If the parents of the child had any objection to the removal of the ash, then they could have simply contacted the school officials and had a meeting to express their concerns; something which thousands of parents do every single day, during the school year. The school administrations contacted the child’s grandparent as soon as they heard of the incident and apologized and the teacher apologized. The situation was dealt with and there should be no future incidents. However, in this case, someone ran to the news media with the story. And, it is now getting as much attention as if the teacher cut off the child’s finger and made him eat it. Or drove him naked out into the snow.

There is a total lack of perspective in today’s society. Everything is the end of the world. There can be no forgiveness. No turning of the other cheek. No hesitation to cast the first stone. The teacher made an incorrect decision, based upon the specifics of the incident. For that reason, her fitness to continue in her role as teacher has to be evaluated, as well as whether her actions violated any school district policies, for which disciplinary action is called for. And, this is as it should be.

All religious groups feel that they are being persecuted. It does not matter if it is Muslims, Jews, or various Christian sects. And the problem now is that religious activists now demand that they be able to indulge their religious practices in public settings, including schools, whether this causes any disruption for others or not. We live in an activist society, where every perceived slight is Armageddon. Sometimes, an honest mistake is simply an honest mistake; except to an activist.

    elle in reply to Mac45. | March 10, 2019 at 5:39 pm

    “In years past, the child would most likely not have been concerned at having to remove the soot”

    That tells us what you think, but not how another child might feel about his faith being ridiculed.

    It’s clear she singled him out to denigrate his outward worship and she was wrong to do it. It’s just that simple. No big conspiracy. The parents had a right to complain.

Sorry, but it’s not the reaction that’s the problem here. Having a teacher publicly embarrass a student for practicing his faith is not acceptable. Our Constitutional rights need to be vigorously defended. And that’s

    Mac45 in reply to rochf. | March 10, 2019 at 1:51 pm

    You make mu point. You are overreacting. She told the student to wash some soot off his face. And, as we do not have any pictures of what the soot looked like when she removed it, we do not even know to what extent it was recognizable as a cross. He refused and she did it for him. Now, as it was part of a Catholic religious ritual, not the wearing of the ash but the placing of it upon the forehead by the priest, the teacher probably should have taken the child to the office and had an administrator to decide the issue. But, I have seen no evidence that she ridiculed the child or his religious beliefs. He is no less a Christian, nor are his Christian beliefs any less, without the soot on his forehead. So, this is really a big nothing burger, undeserving of the attention paid to it.

      gospace in reply to Mac45. | March 10, 2019 at 8:10 pm

      No. She didn’t demand the student wash some soot off his face. That was no more soot than the communion is just bread after it’s blessed. She demanded he wipe a sign of piety off his face.

      There is no evidence that he was subjected to any persecution, either before, after or during the removal of the ash. That’s a completely ignorant statement right there. The forced removal of the ash was an act of persecution. Same as if you ripped the yarmulke off an observant Jew.

      Barry in reply to Mac45. | March 11, 2019 at 12:58 am

      I’m not a catholic, not even particularly religious.

      This “teacher” knew exactly what she was doing and did it in a mean spirited way. She’s not fit to teach children, should be fired for violating the rights of the student to their religious view.

texansamurai | March 10, 2019 at 3:44 pm

He refused and she did it for him. Now, as it was part of a Catholic religious ritual, not the wearing of the ash but the placing of it upon the forehead by the priest, the teacher probably should have taken the child to the office and had an administrator to decide the issue

don’t give a damn what she SHOULD have done–DO give a damn what she DID–from the information related, believe this was a deliberate effort to embarrass this boy for the particular rituals of his FAITH–if that indeed be the case, she is WRONG to have done so–no other answer–she is the adult in this encounter

regards being a nothing burger, am reminded of a maxim from long ago: ” he who tolerated insult, invites injury. “

It’s not some dirt on his face–it’s ashes placed there by the priest to underscore that we are dust and to dust we shall return.
I’m a Lutheran and we observe that as well–and we take it seriously. She deliberately embarrassed a child for practicing his faith, which he has a right to do under the Constitution. So, I’m calling out the unacceptable behavior on the part of the teacher–the district obviously needs to educate or train on these issues.