Term paper about 'God' earns student failing grade

'He told me you might as well write about the Easter Bunny. He wanted to censor the word God.'

Aaron J.H. Walker / Staff Photographer
Bethany Hauf looks through a draft of her final paper titled 'In God We Trust' at her home in Apple Valley.


VICTORVILLE — For using the "G" word 41 times in a term paper, Bethany Hauf was given an "F" by her Victor Valley Community College instructor.

Hauf's teacher approved her term paper topic — Religion and its Place within the Government — on one condition: Don't use the word God. Instead of complying with VVCC adjunct instructor Michael Shefchik's condition Hauf wrote a 10-page report for her English 101 class entitled "In God We Trust."

"He said it would offend others in class," Hauf, a 34-year-old mother of four, said. "I didn't realize God was taboo."

Hauf has received legal assistance from the American Center for Law and Justice. The ACLJ is a conservative Christian legal foundation founded by Dr. M.G. "Pat" Robertson, who is also the founder, chairman and face of the Christian Broadcasting Network.

"I don't loose my First Amendment rights when I walk into that college," Hauf said. She is demanding an apology from the teacher and that the paper be re-graded.

The college says the issue over Hauf's paper, written during the spring semester, has been satisfactorily resolved. "We settled this matter during the course of this class," said Judy Solis, chair of VVC's English department. "She was treated fairly and she knew what the options were."

Shefchik could not be reached for this report.

Hauf took her concerns about not being able to use "God" in her report to her teacher, then to the department chair. 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."

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."

The ACLJ said his actions are unconstitutional. "A student's constitutional free speech rights to express religious views are fully protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments," the ACLJ wrote.

In addition to an apology and a re-grading of Hauf's paper, the ACLJ demands Shefchik "receive some kind of training to sensitize him to the constitutional dimensions of his employment in a public educational institution, including his duty to respect constitutional freedoms of expression."

Hauf's husband supports his wife's position. "She has to pursue this. Not only has her civil rights been violated this is an English class she took, not a political science course," Fritz Hauf said. "She should be graded on the composition not the 'G' word."

Though getting an "F" on the research paper Hauf got a "C" for the class.