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Faith-Friendly Public Schools

We Can Make a Difference



Public school students still enjoy a wide range of religious freedom -- even in the classroom. We just need to educate the educators about it. I’ll explain, next on BreakPoint.

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Eric Metaxas

A few weeks ago, an elementary school teacher in Tennessee told her class to write about someone they idolized. Ten-year-old Erin Shead decided to write about God.

“I look up to God,” she wrote. “He will always be the #1 person I look up to. I love him and Jesus. Jesus is His earthly son.”

But Erin’s teacher told her that she could not write about God—and that her paper could not remain on school property. Erin had to start over. Reluctantly, Erin then wrote about Michael Jackson. Yikes.

After the incident made the news, Shelby County Schools issued a statement saying “no laws or district policies allow teachers to limit students’ expression of religious beliefs in their personal classwork. This was a regrettable misunderstanding, and we as educators must learn from it.”

Bravo! I’m glad the school district corrected the misunderstanding. Because too many teachers mistakenly think that their classrooms somehow need to be religion-free zones. That’s simply not true.

Eric Buehrer of Gateways to Better Education—a ministry to Christian parents and educators in public schools—points out that many teachers are not only afraid to talk about religion themselves, but they even stop students, like Erin, from exercising their constitutionally-protected right of free speech. It’s not that teachers are necessarily hostile to Christianity. They are just tremendously misinformed and afraid of getting in trouble.

 

However, students’ religious liberties are clear. The U.S. Department of Education has issued guidelines for the past 18 years that clearly explain that students in our public schools have the right to express their faith in their assignments. They can witness to their classmates, read their Bibles at school, and yes, they can pray.

The majority of Christian families send their children to public schools. So it’s time we begin helping our schools become more faith-friendly places. And that can begin with Christians already in the system.

For example, Emily was a first-grader in Southern California. As Christmas approached, her teacher told the students to bring their favorite holiday books, and she would read them to the class. But when Emily brought her Bible so the teacher could read about the first Christmas, she was told the Bible wasn’t allowed at school.

Newsletter_Gen_180x180_BThis came to the attention of a district school administrator, who just happened to be a Christian. So he initiated a district-wide retraining of all the elementary teachers regarding students’ religious liberties and how to properly address religious holidays.

Eric Buehrer points out that instead of looking at our schools from an “us versus them” perspective, we should say, “We are them! We’re the teachers, the principals, the school board members, and even the superintendents! The problem is,” says Buehrer, “too many Christians are uninformed about exactly what can be done in schools and how to do it appropriately.”

But here’s the good news: Gateways to Better Education now offers a School Improvement Checklist. It focuses on religious and academic freedom. And it helps schools become places where students feel the freedom to express their faith and learn about the Bible and Christianity. It provides a list of exactly what school policies should be in place and what practices are permissible in the classroom.

Please come to BreakPoint.org, click on this commentary, and we’ll link you to the School Improvement Checklist.

Further Reading and Information

BP-Takeaction_101613Faith-Friendly Public Schools: We Can Make a Difference - Next Steps

Because religious freedom in public schools has been a battleground for years—many war-weary educators, parents, and concerned citizens have become confused over what is legal.   Thankfully, Gateways to Better Education gives clarity to this issue with their School Improvement Checklist.

Please pass this commentary on to other parents and teachers through your social network.  Help others learn the truth about religious freedom in the public school system.


The School Improvement Check List
Gateways to Better Education website

Gateways to Better Education website


Comments:

Bible study clubs
DJ,

Defending the right of students to have faith-based clubs, such as Bible study clubs, on school property is something else the ACLJ (mentioned in my earlier comment) is big on. The rule is, if the school allows any clubs at all (like a club for gay students), they cannot discriminate against Christian (or Jewish, Muslim, etc.) students who want their own club. If you allow one you must allow the other.

Now I don't know how your Beach Club was formed. If it was student-initiated, it is covered by the law. If it was church-initiated, I don't think it is, although the school may choose to allow it, as seems to be the case in your district. They just would not have been required to allow it. But I'm not an attorney and I'm not absolutely positive about that.

So if anyone knows of a public school principal or board that is in violation of the law by disallowing a student Bible club or something similar, they can certainly call the ACLJ (see their website for contact info) and I'm sure they will take the case pro bono and get results. As for Gateways to Better Education, I am not familiar with them; perhaps they would do the same. But ACLJ has a long track record of success in this area.
Faith-Friendly Public Schools
It was encouraging to read about a public school district that "tolerates" our freedom of speech and religious liberties. I feel fortunate to live in a school district (Richardson ISD in TX) which allows the church to host a Bible based after school program at (at least) two elementary schools. My church has staffed this program for the past 3 years. The program is called "Beach Club".. This past year we saw 112 children make decisions for Christ. We make sure every child who attends receives a Bible if they don't already own one. I pray that more school districts will allow churches to serve our children by allowing access to our schools. God is still making Himself known!!
Finally
"Gateways to Better Education NOW offers a School Improvement Checklist"? I'm so glad, but there's nothing original about it. The ACLJ (American Center for Law and Justice), which I have mentioned on this site before, has been offering that kind of info for years and years. I have been listening to their radio program, Jay Sekulow Live, for 20 to 30 years, both on the radio and on the WWWeb. I have heard stories virtually identical to the one described in this commentary described on that program. It seems people who should know better misunderstand the ruling in Murray v. Curlett, which was consolidated with Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963). It forbade school personnel from leading students in prayer, not student-initiated prayer and certainly not students mentioning God or Jesus Christ in class or in their papers.

Nowadays, parents of students get results by presenting the info available at aclj.org to the school principal. Occasionally it takes a demand letter from an ACLJ attorney to the school board. In rare cases they have to take them to court, and they almost always win.

But I wouldn't begrudge Gateways to Better Education for joining the club. Finally.

PS Murray v. Curlett was brought on behalf of William J. Murray III, whom I met and spoke with briefly after he was a guest speaker at my church years ago, by his mother, the late famous atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abington_School_District_v._Schempp.




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