The case of the Monument, Colo., High School valedictorian whose microphone was cut off when she began giving credit to Jesus Christ brings the subject of religion and its place in the public schools to the forefront.
It would be wrong (and unconstitutional) for me to try to indoctrinate my eighth graders to my religious beliefs. I am a representative of the government when I stand in front of those students and according to the First Amendment I am prohibited from doing so. I have no problem with that. Church and home are the places where young people should learn about religion, except of course its role in history.
When I was at The Carthage Press, I wrote several columns about prayer in schools. I remember the battle when a threatened legal action by the ACLU stopped the traditional pre-game prayer that had always been given over the public address system at the Lamar High School football field.
I interviewed Leigh Hughes, a Lamar High School senior, in the fall of 1992 about her efforts to have the prayer restored. It did not happen while she was in high school, but people gathered in the end zone for prayer and if nothing else, it made the people of Lamar stop and think about the importance of religion.
A court ruling enabled Lamar to restore the pre-game prayer, as long as it was student-initiated, the following year. I remember standing in the pressbox with my trusty camera as Lindsay Hughes, Leigh's younger sister, gave the first prayer. I was so disappointed when the pictures came out and for some reason, everyone's eyes were shut.
Fortunately, my intelligence returned from its brief vacation and I realized the students' eyes were closed because they were praying.
Now, the wheels have turned in the other direction and the latest federal court rulings have banned prayers from events like football games even if they are student-initiated.
Judges are making the mistake of mixing up people feeling uncomfortable with the government trying to declare an official religion.
The principal at Monument, Colo., was wrong when he took away valedictorian Erica Corder's First Amendment freedom of speech rights by turning off her microphone. Did her references to Jesus Christ make some uncomfortable? Undoubtedly. The U. S. Constitution does not guarantee people the right to be comfortable when they listen to speeches. (If it did, people would never listen to speeches.)
When school officials become so afraid of Christianity that they begin eliminating all vestiges of it in the schools, they are sacrificing common sense in the name of being politically correct.
No school year goes by that we don't hear another horror story about a child who was not allowed to give a report on a book of a religious nature. We hear of students who are told not to bring their Bibles to school or not to write papers that deal with their religious beliefs. These things happen because some teachers are scared to death of dealing with anything that has to do with religion.
When we ask students to write papers that deal with their personal beliefs, we can't go ballistic if some of them happen to be Christians and want to express their beliefs.
When we so desperately want children to learn to enjoy reading, we can't tell those who like religious books, "You can read anything you like, but not those."
And when we ask students to deliver valedictory addresses, which are supposed to be personal in nature, and we prohibit top students like Erica Corder from saying what they feel in their hearts, we are sending the message that freedom of speech is okay...unless, of course, you plan on mentioning that you are a Christian.