Why doesn’t the government offer parents more options to find the best education for their children?
Paul Weber, president and CEO of Family Policy Alliance, explains the many ways that children could be better served, if the needs of families were given priority.
He says the possibilities go far beyond high school graduation.
Religious freedom is the First Amendment principle enshrining the freedom to practice religion in teaching, worship and public life. However, the interpretation of this amendment is where battles are being fought. Your child’s classroom is one place that fight is playing out.
Religious freedom in our educational system has been under attack for years, often because of a misguided and incorrect interpretation of “separation of church and state”. Nevertheless, we have a Constitutional guarantee of religious freedom – even at school. Do any of these freedoms surprise you?
Public and Private Schools:
- Must allow students the opportunity to pray and hold devotions on school premises (e.g., “See You at the Pole” events)
- Are required to allow students to read their Bibles, say grace before meals, pray before tests, and discuss religion with other willing students
- Must allow students to express their religious beliefs in homework, artwork and other assignments
- Are required to allow students to form religious clubs, including Bible clubs, if the school allows other noncurricular-related groups (applies to secondary public schools)
- May not infringe on a student’s right to distribute religious literature to their schoolmates on the same terms as they are permitted to distribute other literature that is unrelated to school curriculum or activities
- Can teach about religion in an academic and informational manner
- May use art, drama, music or literature with religious themes, if it serves a sound educational goal in the curriculum.
(Source: Religious Freedom Center – A Teacher’s Guide to Religion in the Public Schools)
Are you surprised? I was. While I don’t think these rights don’t go far enough, it is somewhat reassuring that religion is not entirely shut out of our educational institutions. If this is the case, why then do we need to continue fighting for religious freedom within school settings?
First, these freedoms are not applied consistently, including in North Dakota. This may be because school teachers and administrators are simply unaware of these rights and responsibilities, or perhaps they are personally opposed to them. For example, House Bill 1275 was introduced this past legislative session to simply allow students to pray before athletic events.
Second, teachers are not afforded the same freedoms as students to live out their faith. If we want to change our schools, we must look to the primary influencers of our children in the school setting – teachers. When they are constrained, the message of religious freedom is stifled.
Finally, there is the potential for these freedoms to be eroded. Freedoms that are not vigilantly protected tend to erode and become interpreted as mere privileges instead of Constitutional rights.
For all these reasons, Family Policy Alliance of North Dakota and its allies are on the front lines protecting and expanding these and other religious freedoms on the national and state level. Won’t you join us in this critical fight?
The freedoms we enjoy were won with the blood and wisdom of our Forefathers. Let’s honor these liberties and protect them!
Gateways to Better Education helps public schools teach about the important contribution the Bible and Christianity make to the world. Eric Buehrer is the president and founder.
School officials in Middleton, Wisconsin, are upset at a group of moms who are eating lunch with their high school children and their friends. Middleton High School allows students to go off campus for lunch. Since the school is next to a public park, a group of five moms started meeting their children at the park for a picnic lunch once a week. The problem? They are Christians and they dare to talk about their faith, and the group has grown to 300 or 400 students.
The school district would like the public to think that they are only concerned about the safety of the students. But, from the school principal’s remarks to local news outlets, clearly the issue is about religious expression.
Middleton High School principal Steve Plank told a local news outlet, “Some students feel excluded or left out. We have students of different faiths, Muslim students or Hindu students or Jewish students who feel like this is happening and it’s not for them.”
First of all, it’s just lunch with 3-5 minute Christian message. Second, it’s a public park (and the moms have a permit from the city to use the park). Third, students are free to eat and leave without listening to the brief thought-for-the-day. Fourth, the high school students freely choose to attend; and fifth, the 300-400 students who attend are only 15-20% of the 2,065 students at Middleton High Schools. The other 1,600-1,700+ students are eating somewhere else.
Last week, the school district posted a statement on its website that it was consulting with its legal counsel to see if it was responsible for the students attending the picnics since the district leases the park for its use (even though the park remains a public park for all to use).
What responsibility? If they are concerned about food safety, are they willing to monitor the other 1,900 students’ sack lunches in the lunch room? Are they saying no student can even go to the park when they leave campus for lunch, even if it is to eat their own lunch?
Clearly, the issue isn’t the health and safety of students; it’s about district’s concern that students may somehow be traumatized by voluntarily choosing to hear a Christian message during their free time off school property.
Predictably, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, whose offices are just down the road in Madison, Wisconsin, have now protested the students’ choice of lunch time activity. According to their press release, they offered dessert and handed out uplifting and tolerant pamphlets such as “What’s Wrong with the Ten Commandments” and “Why Women Need Freedom from Religion.”
To help the moms and students, Gateways to Better Education has offered them Free to Speak pamphlets (a joint project of Alliance Defending Freedom and Gateways to Better Education) explaining public school students’ freedom of religious expression.
What was a simple activity involving food and fellowship has now become yet another opportunity for the politically correct to claim that they are traumatized, and for activists to rail against people of faith.