School Kids and Religious Liberty
What does it mean to have freedom of religion? Does it mean your children are free to practice religion at home and church but not in public? Must they stay quiet about God in the classroom and online school platforms, and only talk about him at break time? You can be sure they WILL be told there is a “separation between church and state” meaning any event sponsored or permitted by the state cannot include religion. And because a public school is state funded, God cannot be recognized, worshipped or even discussed in the school setting.
That is simply wrong. “Freedom of religion” also includes the “free exercise of religion.” Faith is meaningless if a person cannot order his life and live out his faith in public. Separation of church and state actually means the state may not establish a religion, force a particular religion on people, or prevent the free exercise of religion by discriminating against or suppressing expression. Thomas Jefferson used the phrase to reassure people that the government would stay out of religion, because prior to the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, some states did endorse and force particular religions. Government staying out of religion does not mean religious people must stay out of government, or that they must never bring their beliefs and practices with them into public places and events. That would be a government prohibition or prevention of religion.
Department of Education Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer and Religious Expression in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools
Some countries do not recognize freedom of religion, so Christians must obey God rather than man in matters of religious conscience. In the United States, the Constitution recognizes the freedom of conscience and of religious practice, so when uninformed people try to intimidate or restrict us, we can politely resist with the confidence that the highest law in the land is on our side.
Telling schoolchildren they may not openly pray in school or openly talk about Jesus any time or place in school when they may otherwise talk is a violation of free speech and free exercise of religion. As our faith should affect every part of our lives and decisions, there are plenty of times when it would be appropriate to speak of religious beliefs without straying from the classroom topic. Encourage your child to look for opportunities to bear witness to his faith in Christ. Resources for Students
Imagine this scenario. Johnny is doing really well in school and his teacher commends him, asking what motivates him. Johnny says, “it’s my Grandma. She encourages me and tells me I can do well. I love her and she loves me. She inspires me and I want to please her.” Imagine the teacher saying, “We don’t talk about Grandma here. Grandma isn’t appropriate for public schools.” We all agree that would be outrageous. But too often, we are intimidated by that mindset regarding talking about God.
A survey of public school principals who have Good News Clubs in their schools shows that children who attend Good News Club do better in their school work, behave better, and demonstrate a better attitude. If children want to talk about what they learned in Good News Club and how it motivates them to do well, they are free to talk about that, and invite other children to attend.
Your child has every right to voluntarily speak about his beliefs in school, whether it be a conversation with another student, a comment in a class discussion about literature or philosophy, or a written paper that meets assignment criteria. He may pray before athletic events and other student-led assemblies. Official school-led assemblies or activities should not suppress voluntary student religious expression. Government representatives (such as school administrators and teachers) must extend “equal treatment” and “equal access” to all individuals and groups which are similarly situated. If a school allows students to pass out opinion fliers, hang posters, and attend after school clubs led by adults, the school cannot deny Christian students the right to do all the same things. This right was more firmly secured by a case that went to the Supreme Court, Good News Club v. Milford Central School District. The ruling was that Good News Clubs can meet in public schools in the United States after school hours on the same terms as other community groups. Child Evangelism Fellowship conducts around 5,000 Good News Clubs in public schools across America. For help on starting a Good News Club in a school near you, go to CEFonline.com.
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