A Vacaville, Calif. teacher has banned the saying of "bless you" after someone sneezes in his classroom, sparking outrage from critics who claim that this is yet another attack on Christianity. But are people simply overreacting?
William C. Wood High School health teacher Steve Cuckovich said the sneeze ban has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with class discipline. He insists that saying "bless you" causes too many interruptions, noting that when several students say "bless you,” the sneezer responds with "thank you" to each person who said a blessing.
In addition, Cuckovich believes saying "bless you" is simply unnecessary.
"The blessing doesn't make any sense anymore," he told KFSN. "When you sneeze, in the old days, they thought you were dispelling evil spirits out of your body. So, they are saying god bless you for getting rid of the evil spirits. But today, what I said is what your doing doesn't make any sense anymore."
Cuckovich is so serious about enforcing his ban, that he deducts 25 points from a student's grade for breaking it. In some U.S. public schools, a passing grade is 70.
The decision to stop post-sneeze blessings has rankled both students and parents, some of whom believe it is another example of religious discrimination in public schools.
"You know we're Catholic. We're supposed to say, you know, your religion," a student from the school told Fox40 News.
"I think that's ridiculous. First, the Pledge of Allegiance. Now, preventing a kid from saying, 'Bless You?'" said parent Alan Johnson.
"Everybody has their right to their own beliefs. But they don't have rights to impose those beliefs on other people, especially not school children," he added.
However, is banning "bless you" really an attack on religion? Is it the term commonly delivered after a person sneezes even "Christian" at all, although variations included "God bless you?"
Nobody is entirely sure where the custom came from and there are several explanations for its origin.
The Straight Dope says one of the explanations date back to the times of the Black Plague, when Pope Gregory the Great would "bless" a person after they sneezed, in the hope that they would not develop the dreaded plague.
However, the papal explanation is just one theory behind the "bless you" phrase. Another explanation is the erroneous belief the heart stops when one sneezes, requiring a "bless you" to ensure one's heart starts up again.
There are also quite a few explanations born from superstitions, such as the one Cuckovich said was his reason for deeming "bless you" unnecessary. Snopes.com confirmed the belief that sneezes were the expulsion of evil spirits and that saying “bless you” protected one against those spirits from coming back in.
Nonetheless, there still does not seem to be a direct Christian belief that mandates saying "bless you" after a sneeze.
At Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church, a representative on the Houston church's "prayer line" admitted she did not know the Christian perspective on saying "bless you."
"I have no idea why people say bless you," she said. "I certainly don’t know of any instance in the Bible. But you can probably find out on the Internet."
Although "bless you" does indeed occur throughout the Bible, Scripture does not record the statement being delivered at the incitement of a sneeze.