Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The foolishness of eliminating Christianity in schools

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.


Anonymous said...

Uhh, Randy? Those pictures you took of people with their eyes shut because you thought they were praying? Not necessarily.

One of the things that my deeply religious mother taught me was that when with a group and someone not from my church began a public prayer, you shut your eyes and wait till they stop. Praying along with what she basically considered heathens was not part of the instructions.

Anonymous said...

Do you find it ironic to mention common sense and christianity in the same sentence??

Anonymous said...

Since this happened then I would expect the next time Bush uses God in his speeches that his microphones be turned off in the name of fair play. This is ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that the establishment clause always butts heads with the free exercise clause.

If a teacher can "teach" religion in a public school or if a school can hold religious activities then, ultimately, some "alternative" religion will quite rightly expect to be included in the mix.

I can't see that Christianity faces any risks. In the midwest, churches abound. Indeed, they aren't even taxed by the government.

I don't want a public schoolteacher teaching religion to my children. (Of course, I want them teaching behavior--honesty, charity, compassion, forgiveness) but religion should be left to the home and the church.

Our founding fathers were very aware of this issue. They made it their First Amendment.

Anonymous said...

The basic problem here is not the schools or the churches, but the peculiar mindset of middle America, which refuses to allow any part of life outside the church yard to be secular. Until people change the way they look at public life, which is not likely to happen, people will insist on invoking the deity and "praying" in public. I, for one, am extremely uncomfortable when people bring up their religion in public. I was taught as a child that people who pray in public are receiving their reward in public. My parents taught us to keep our religion to ourselves. But then, our church doesn't believe in prosyletizing (spelling???). We consider such behavior sinful.
Aye, there's the rub.

Bryan said...


I'm confused by your disapproval of the schools reaction. The speech she was giving was a GROUP SPEECH that was written by more than one person. That speech was representing more than just that one speaker and by including something in her part of the presentation that the group did not condone is probably what got her cut off... Not the fact that she spoke of Jesus.

If the speech has been hers and hers alone, the school probably would not have been able to turn the mike off. In this instance, even if she was only speaking for herself, once she agreed to speak with and for others, she became their representative and thus subject to the fact that her personal feelings may not have represented them.

The school probably cut her off more for the fact that she did not let anyone know she was going to include the message in her part of the speech.

Anonymous said...

Despite many an agnostic's wish, the Constitution does not grant Americans a freedom from religion, it only guarantees them a freedom to practice any they wish.

Was there a policy at the school detailing the rules of speaking at graduation? If there was nothing saying what this girl could or couldn't say, turning off the mic was a cowardly abuse of power.

Take all the cheap shots you want at religion, but in essence theology opens some of mankind's deepest philosophical quandries. The birth of religion was essentially the birth of questioning authority.

You don't have to agree with what the girl was saying, you should agree with her right to say it.

Of course, in the end, the media will be to blame for the whole event -- and eventually be blamed for the creation on God, the Constitution, valedictorians and girls too.

Anonymous said...

So if the birth of religion was the birth of questioning authority, when, why and how did it morph into a tool for enforcing that same authority?

As far as I'm concerned you do not have the right to push your religion beliefs on me and my children any more than the muslims, pagans, buddhists, or countless other religions practiced in the United States.

Granny Geek said...


Here are the facts in this case. I spoke with the ACLU of Nevada to make sure of the details of the incident.

1. Rumors abound on the net that the ACLU approved her speech in advance. This is not true. The ACLU had nothing to do with Brittany McComb's speech in Henderson, Nevada. I repeat: The ACLU had nothing to do with Brittany McComb's speech in Henderson, Nevada.

2. Miss McComb wrote her graduation speech and presented for approval to the school authorities. This is customary procedure in most if not all schools. THE ACLU WAS NOT INVOLVED IN APPROVING HER SPEECH. NEVER HAPPENED. AT ALL. NOBODY FROM THE ACLU SAW HER SPEECH: ONLY SCHOOL AUTHORITIES.

3. School authorities instructed Miss McComb to revise her speech, as they deemed it to be "too evangelical."

4. Miss McComb revised her speech, and school officials approved it.

5. At graduation, Miss McComb reverted to her original speech: she began a very wild harangue declaring that Jesus was the saviour of the world, that Jesus died on the cross for everyone, that Jesus is the only hope for the world....and on and on. It was a real SERMON about Jesus. This was NOT a personal declaration of faith: it was an evangelical sermon.

6. The school pulled the plug on the microphone because she had disobeyed instructions. As an aside, there were several non-Christian students in the class, and the parents of these non-Christian students were in the audience.

7. The ACLU has never had any objections to students stating their religious beliefs in their speeches: that their faith in God is important to them, that religion is part of their value system, etc. The ACLU has no objections to the acknowledgment of religion in the public sphere.

8. At this time---right NOW---the ACLU of Nevada is defending a student who was suspended for wearing a religious T-shirt to school. We feel that he is being discriminated against..other students can wear non-religious T-shirts, but he can't wear a religious T-shirt. Doesn't make sense, and the ACLU has gone to court to defend this young man (he's a Mormon).

Hope this is helpful.

Granny Geek said...

Forgot to add that the Nevada incident and the Colorado incident are alike in that have both been exaggerated beyond the pale, especially by goups that are asking for "donations" or "gifts" to continue their OWN work.

Anonymous said...

Your characterization of the girl's remarks may be somewhat misleading. According to a June 10 Associated Press report posted on rockymountainnews.com, what the girl began to do was to exhort the assembled families to learn more about Jesus and the sacrifice He had made for them.

The girl admits in a newspaper interview to planning the remarks for months without telling anyone, deliberately keeping her intentions secret even from the other 14 presenters who assumed they were giving fragments of the text of a speech all had agreed on. Nor did the subject of Jesus surface in her rehearsal in front of the school principal.

She must have created an uneasy moment of the sort some of us have come to dread as we watch the Golden Globes or the Oscars, when recipients suddenly blurt out a call for a homeland for the Palestinians, or demand that the administration bring our soldiers home.

There is probably a case to be made that schools sometimes overreact when they try to keep religious expression out of the educational system.

The young lady in Colorado is not, however, the poster child for that argument.

Unknown said...

Thanks for pointing us to this story. I have seen several similar stories of kids not being allowed to share their personal thoughts because the thoughts were religious. NO matter if this particular story was really a violation of her first amendment rights or if she was not following the rules, your general premise is true. Schools have become afraid of the dreaded lawsuit by the ACLU. The ACLU does do some great things but they also have schools so afraid that schools would rather deny the appropriate religious freedoms to their students than have a possible ACLU lawsuit. I for one, applaud you bringing this topic up.

Anonymous said...

Separation of Church and State. Does anyone remember that? Well it's a law.

Nini said...

The two biggest issues I have with this whole controversy are that she felt she could speak aabout religion on the behalf of her fellow classmates, and that she knew it was wrong.

As a valedictorian, some think they have the right to say whatever they want because of the 1st ammendment. What people are forgetting is that we are guaranteed the right to speak what we as individuals want. To stand up before an entire graduating class and force your religious beliefs on someone else is not OK.

The other thing I mentioned was that she knew what she was doing was wrong. Her speech had already been approved and there were no previous references to Jesus or religion in the graduation rehersal. If she thought it was OK for her to say these things, she wouldn't have been so sneaky about it.

On top of all of that, she is now planning to sue the school. That is the most selfish thing she could possibly be doing. The best way to go about protesting this is just that: protesting. The first ammendment also guarantees us the right to petition. But instead she'd rather turn this into a legal battle, waste time and money, and try to come out richer in the name of God.

I don't find that acceptable.

Anonymous said...

Good for you Erica. There should no shame in sharing your faith.