Of Religious Liberty in Public Schools
2. In summary, in 1962 and 1963 and subsequently, the US Supreme Court ruled against schools and school boards sponsoring prayer and/or Bible reading as part of the school day in elementary and secondary schools. This is primarily due to the captive nature of schools containing impressionable children. In general this does not apply to college and beyond schools except in extraordinary circumstances.
Yet, the US Supreme Court rulings do not remove religious activity such as prayer and Bible Study from schools.
The court regulates the interaction of school representatives and students so as to avoid or minimize religious coercion by adults on captive impressionable minds and hearts. It is really a service to parents and reminds parents that it is primarily their responsibility to:
(1) Train up their child in the way he should go (Proverbs 22:6) spiritually.
(2) Train their child in religious liberty and religious tolerance.
(3) Train their child to accept certain academic teachings as merely academic exercises for school only but which are to be rejected for living life outside the school. For example, ideally schools would recognize Darwinism as a falsehood. But nevertheless, parents should teach their child he may study Darwinism for academic purposes but that Darwinism is an academic lie and that Creationism is the truth. Indeed, all children should learn that outside the Bible human knowledge is to viewed as truth until humans determine it is no longer truth.
The example of human limitations and human uncertainty I use is that of Pluto status as a planet. When I was in school I was taught that Pluto was a planet. But in 2006, human scientist decided that Pluto is not a planet or at least not of the same planetary status as it once was considered to have. Outside, of the Bible all “truth” is uncertain and has limited usefulness though it be useful for some purposes.
3. In modern times a number of conditions essentially created and continue to create the issue regarding prayer and religious material in elementary and secondary schools. These include:
(a) Education is largely government run for a variety of good reasons
(b) Society is less religion-friendly in general
(c) Society is less Christian-friendly due to an increase in the prominence of a variety of other religions in America.
(d) Society is less Christian-friendly due to an increase in Christians’ focus on individualism and a decrease in a recognition of the value to the whole of group religion.
(e) There has been a rise of numerous atheistic, irreligious, and religious groups that promote separation of church and state. These groups mission is to monitor, convince, and if necessary file lawsuits against governmental entities that is believed to have violated the idea of separation of church and state.
(f) Many Christians submit to the idea that all religions are equal and that atheists have equal rights in society.
(g) There is an increasing enormous disunity within the Christian community on even the most natural and basic doctrines of Christianity.
(h) There is a decrease in the percentage of American who identify themselves as Christian or who see value in organized religion.
4. The current US Supreme Court and US Department of Education rules seem to be as listed below. The presented conclusions are primarily based on an analysis of the Department of Education document entitled
Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools, dated February 7, 2003
available from the government website www.ed.gov. Items in quotes are from that Department of Education document. This analysis and the conclusions set forth are not intended to represent every circumstance schools and students may face in which details differ from the circumstances set forth or perceived herein.
(1) Students in K-12 are impressionable and deserve protection from religious influence by the government while under government authority and responsibility. This is in essence a service to parents who may not want their children exposed to certain religious considerations or any at all.
(2) In general, students beyond 12th Grade can make up their own mind and are not so protected by the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution; there are a few exceptions to this rule regarding post-12th grade students such as some military institutes. This means school officials and students at college and beyond institutions have no restrictions imposed by the courts regarding such things as prayer, bible study, etc.
(3) Anyone may pray silently at any time. This includes school officials and students.
(4) A moment of silence or minute of silence is constitutional as long as its purpose is not explicitly set forth as one of prayer. This applies even if everyone knows one of the reasons the moment/minute exists is to give all the opportunity to pray. School officials can neither encourage nor discourage prayer during such times.
(5) Schools may impose restrictions to maintain good order and disciple but may not do so in a way that violates teacher and student Constitutional rights.
(6) School authorities may “disclaim sponsorship of non-curricular groups and events” as well as endorsements.
(7) School representatives “may take part in religious activities where the overall context makes clear that they are not participating in their official capacities.”
(8) “School officials may not mandate or organize religious ceremonies” such as baccalaureate ceremonies. However, it must make its facilities/services available for such ceremonies if it makes them available to other private groups.
B. School Representatives (Administrators, Teachers, Employees, and similar persons):
(1) School representatives and their guests may not initiate, lead, control, oversee, sponsor, or participate in a prayer or Bible Study group involving students. Guests include ministers invited by and/or authorized or approved by school officials. This restriction may also apply to some volunteers but not necessarily all volunteers. For example, it may apply to volunteers in a classroom but may not apply to volunteers at a sporting event.
(2) School representatives may form religious groups for prayer and/or Bible Study as long as such groups do not include any students. Such groups may meet before, during, or after school. They may meet during school during non-instructional periods such as during lunch. The key is that protection is provided against students entering the presence of school representatives while the group is meeting. Mere knowledge that the group meets at a particular place and time for religious purposes is not considered coercive or influential on the student.
(3) At student graduation events students and school invited guests may pray or otherwise speak about their religion convictions so long as school representatives do not “determine or substantially control the content of what is expressed.” These school invited guests may include ministers as ministers may choose to not pray or expressly talk about religion but rather about general inspirational topics. Indeed, there are some ministers who might not pray due to their strict interpretation of the idea of separation of church and state.
(4) School board meetings are convened to conduct official school business. Students may at least occassionally attend such meetings. However, the law is unclear whether religious activity such as prayer before a school board meeting is constitutional.
(1) At student graduations and other student assemblies and extra-curricular activities such as sporting events, students may pray or otherwise speak about their religion convictions so long as school representatives do not “determine or substantially control the content of what is expressed.” Under these circumstances parents, sports referees, and other attendees may join with the students in prayer. Some volunteers such as concession stand volunteers may also be eligible to join in with the students. However, the rules seem to say that school representatives such as administrators, teachers, and other employees may not be able to visibly participate in such circumstances. Yet, school disclaimers may be appropriate for such events.
(2) Students may initiate, form, lead, control, oversee, and/or participate in a religious group not involving school representatives and/or guests.. I suppose school guests would also need to be excluded since guests would require authorization and approval of school officials as it is unreasonable for someone to be on school property without school knowledge. These groups include but are not limited to prayer groups, Bible Study groups, religious clubs, and “see you at the pole” gatherings. Such groups may meet before, during, or after school. They may meet during school during non-instructional periods such as during lunch or recess. Mere knowledge that the group meets at a particular place and time for religious purposes is not considered coercion or influence by the school authorities.
(3) As long as done orderly, students may read their Bibles or other scriptures, say grace before meals, and pray or study religious materials with fellow students during recess, the lunch hour, or other non-instructional time.
(4) Student religious groups must be given the same access to school facilities for assembly and advertising opportunity as given to group formed for non-religious purposes.
(5) Under certain circumstances, students may be excused from class to attend off-campus religious events. For example, according to the Department of Education, “it would be lawful for schools to excuse Muslim students briefly from class to enable them to fulfill their religious obligations to pray during Ramadan.”
(6) “Students may express their beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written events and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions.”
Various statistical analysis suggests that the percentage of Americans that identify as Christians is increasingly decreasing for a variety of reasons. Organizations like the Barna Group,
Gallup, and Pew Researchcapture statistics regarding the State of Christianity in America from a number of perspectives. Of course, statistics are not precise but are useful for giving one a reasonably measured idea of trends.
Intuition suggest there is a move away from Christianity in America. Yet, Christianity is still the predominant religion in America.
While Christians predominate we should use every opportunity and occasion to make our nation’s children disciples of Jesus Christ. Christians should realize we are at spiritual war with atheist that represent Satan and not God. Christians should realize we are at spiritual war with other religions who oppose the biblical doctrine of Jesus Christ (2 John 1:9).
Christians should not turn our nation over to them. If we do, it is because we bowed down to Satan. Jesus cautions us against fearing Satan rather than God (Matthew 10:28-33).
Therefore, the Christian solution is both tactical (short term) and strategic (long term).
(1) Christian school representatives and students should leverage every opportunity allowed by the US Supreme court rulings. Indeed, school representatives can pray for themselves and their students just not along with students. Similarly, students can pray for themselves as well as their school representatives just not along with school representatives. Indeed, what atheist and Satan meant for bad, God can use for good for student active involvement trains them to be leaders for God. The Bible is true when it says “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
Moreover, Christians should not fear other religions leading followers of that religion in prayer or Bible Study at school (Matthew 10:28-33). Let them do so! If Christians are doing what they are suppose to do to make disciples of Jesus Christ, their numbers will be small and their religious groups will be scarce. Fear them not! Do not bully them! Seriously teach your children to be tolerant of them in the hope that one day they will see the light of Christ. Let your example shine that light (Matthew 5:13-16)! Again, fear them not!
(2) Christians should lay aside religious pettiness that divide us at least within the context of academic education of our children. Christians of all races should band together to produce and sustain more integrated Christian schools to give parents educational options. This movement away from government run schools should not lead us back to segregation as I reject both Black Supremacy and White Supremacy. Therefore, denominations/churches of all races should jointly create, fund, and manage
Christian schools. If we leave the public schools to the atheist, agnostics, and those with idolatrous religions who refuse to heed the Christian call, so let it be. It is their soul and the soul of their children that abide in darkness. But, let us never close the door of salvation and light of Jesus Christ to the repentant adult or child.
To God Be the Glory!
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