In "In God We Teach," Director Vic Losick examines the 2006 case in which a student at a public high school in Kearny, N.J., set off a nationwide debate when he revealed recordings of his history teacher, an evangelical Christian, speaking on Jesus and salvation in the classroom.
"While the average American is familiar with the concept of 'separation of church and state,' just how many understand what is legal and what is not when it comes to the public school classroom? What are the rules? Who can say what? Does God's law trump civil law?" writes Losick on the documentary website.
The filmmaker explores the issue as faced by a quiet New Jersey town shaken by the debate on religious freedom in the classroom and the concept of separation of church and state.
"In God We Teach" follows student Matthew LaClair, who complained six years ago about his history teacher, David Paszkiewicz, speaking on Jesus and salvation in the classroom. Paszkiewicz denied accusations of illegally proselytizing in the classroom, saying that he was expressing his academic freedom as well as his opinion in response to students' questions.
After failing to receive a response from the school board, LaClair filed a lawsuit. After months of debate, the lawsuit was settled, with the school board apologizing to LaClair and offering in-service training for their teachers on academic and religious freedom in the classroom.
Losick told The Christian Post that one of the main reasons he created "In God We Teach" was "to advance the debate" on how personal belief, religious dogma and civil law intersect in America, through the eyes of a blue-collar town.
"The reason why people are reluctant to look at movies like this is that the twin taboos of polite discussion are religion and politics," Losick said.
"Most teachers don't know much about this," he added, referring to how laws of religious freedom and free speech apply in the classroom.
"I want people to be informed so they can make intelligent decisions. One of my big questions is, if you think we're a Christian government, then let's put a cross on the flag."
Paszkiewicz, who thanks Losick for his even-handed approach to the documentary in a YouTube clip, stood by his religious convictions until the very end, even founding a Christian club on the high school campus and taking members on a field trip to the Creation Museum.
"I don't believe that my religious beliefs trump the Constitution, but I do believe that the Word of God does, and of course the Word of God has some pretty explicit things to say about obeying government authorities as well," Paszkiewicz said in the documentary.
Similarly, LaClair remained firm in his convictions, attending college and continuing to publicly speak on his views of religious freedom and its expression in the classroom.
"I'm almost one hundred percent sure that this is not just my school. I would suspect that it is going on all around the country," LaClair said in the documentary, commenting on incidents similar to the one he encountered.
Losick told The Christian Post that ultimately he feels that religion belongs to the individual, and every individual has a right to stand by their religious convictions. However, Losick believes government should not be involved.
"If you're raised a Christian, and you're a lawyer or a lawmaker, you bring whatever your religion is, or your Christianity, to the table. It's sort of one or two steps removed, so whatever choices you make may or may not be influenced by your religion. You don't have the government officially endorse Christianity as our values," said the filmmaker.
"We're all Americans. I am all for every American exercising every constitutionally protected right we have, and that includes the first part of the First Amendment," he added.
"In God We Teach," directed and produced independently by Losick, can only be viewed online, although various public screenings have previously been provided for the documentary.
The film also includes commentary and insight from Stephen Colbert, Alan Dershowitz, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Barry Lynn, Kenneth Miller, and John Whitehead.
Losick, a New Jersey native himself, has previously worked as a cameraman for BBC News as well as with the shooting and production teams for the film "Last Dance."
The official trailer for "In God We Teach" can be viewed below: