I feel the need to issue it because I’ve seen way too many posts by my brothers and sisters in Christ playing the role of a persecuted people living in a society where God and all things holy have been BANNED and REMOVED from their children’s public schools.
Sometimes a little education goes a long way. If you’ve felt the need to decry our lack of religion in schools in the past few days especially, don’t take this post as my criticism of you. Rather, I’m hopeful that maybe once we realize what’s actually involved in this separation of church and state, my fellow Christians and I can stop playing victim and realize what it means for our rights and the rights of other people.
For the last twelve years, on Tuesday mornings (and for a stretch of time, on Thursdays as well) I have driven to South Middle School in my town of Henderson, KY, arriving before 7:30. The group has had many names (First Priority, FCA, ACT), and every year there’s a different “flavor” that comes with a different group of students, but the purpose is the same. I meet with a group of students to pray, read scripture, have discussions and play games. It’s an abbreviated Youth Group meeting that happens in the school library before the first bell rings. Students take turns leading or reading or offering prayer or voicing their concerns for themselves and others. We make good use each of week of the 3 study Bibles South Middle School keeps on their non-fiction shelf.
If your child attends a public school, he or she has rights and privileges, as do all of the other children in his or her school. Here are a few things that I’ve learned along the way that I’d like to share today:
1. At our church, we teach kids that God is everywhere. God is not contained to certain arenas and areas. Wherever they go, God is with them. School is not some anomalous place where God is not. God is there, too! No laws or people can keep God out of school. And I can attest that in schools, God’s people are praying alone and together and God’s people are honoring God alone and together.
2. I find that when people state that they want to put religion and prayer back into public schools, they usually mean THEIR religion and THEIR kind of prayer. The fact of the matter is that there are many religions and many ways to pray. If congress passed legislation tomorrow that made it allowable for teachers to lead prayer at the beginning of the day, there would be people flipping their lids because the teacher led prayer from a Catholic prayer book, or by speaking in tongues, or to Allah, or through any other prayerful expression.
3. I’m not trying to be judgmental, but I find that people who are quickest to fuss about no religion in school are often not practicing religion at home. Does your family pray together before school each day? Does your family read and study Scripture together? Maybe those are better places to start reforming.
4. Students have rights when it comes to observing and practicing their religious beliefs. However, these rights do not include harming other students or teachers, being disruptive to other learners, disrespecting teachers and faculty or breaking basic school rules. (Vandalism is still vandalism. Writing on a desk is not okay. Writing “God loves you” on a desk is equally not okay.)
5. Students are allowed to carry and read their Bibles or sacred texts in school (note: from here on, when I say ‘school,’ I mean public school). A lot of schools have Bibles in their library. At South Middle School, students can take Accelerated Reader tests on every book of the Bible.
6. Students are allowed to pray alone and with other students in school, as long as it’s not disruptive to other learners.
7. Students are allowed to meet in groups for religious purposes (like Bible Study) before school, after school or during their lunch and recess times. If the school allows other extracurricular groups to meet during those times in the building, the school must also allow religious groups to do so.
8. Students have the right to share their religious views, have conversations about religious topics or even share how their own beliefs figure into what’s being discussed in class, provided they are not being disruptive or harmful to others. (Again, standing on a table in the cafeteria is against school rules. Standing on a table in the cafeteria with a Bible and a megaphone–also against school rules!)
9. Students have the right to not participate in school activities or assignments that conflict with his or her religious beliefs.
10. Schools and teachers are not allowed to make any participation in any religious activity, club or class mandatory.
I’m no expert, but I do think there are a lot of misconceptions that have been spread and embraced by religious communities. A special appeal to my brothers and sisters in Christ: always do your own research and educate yourself before you share and spread rumors or facebook graphics.