Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Schoolhouses should not be religion-free zones

I have written before about the flawed path being taken by those who seek to remove all vestiges of Christianity from public schools. Those who remember my days at The Carthage Press will remember that it is an issue I wrote about it dozens of times, with columns ranging on religious-oriented topics from student-led prayers at football games and graduations to attempts to allow Christian-based clubs to meet on school property.
As this is being written, less than three days have passed since the shooting incident at Memorial Middle School put Joplin, Missouri, into the national dialogue on school violence.
While I would never favor proselytizing in our schools, and I believe in separation of church and state when it comes to teachers or administrators doing anything to push any certain religion, students' practice of their religions, whatever they may be, cannot be anything but a plus in our current climate.
The subject of religion in our schools is addressed by Missouri Speaker of the House Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, in his most recent column, which is reprinted below:

Speaker of the House

This week, I was going to write about a plan we are working on that will help seniors preserve their retirement next egg. However, I heard a story on the radio a couple of days ago that deeply affected me. Next week, I'll talk about our plan to help Missouri's seniors, but this week I want to talk to you about a girl named Amber Mangum.

Amber Mangum is a seventh grader from Maryland. According to the interview I heard, on September 14th the Vice-Principal of Amber's school caught her reading a controversial book during her lunch break. The administrator told Amber that reading this particular book was against school policy and if she continued to read it she would either be put in detention or sent directly home.

And what was the offensive book that she was reading? What was the book that posed such a threat? Why, it was the Bible of course.

It was heartbreaking to her Amber's mother tell the story of how her daughter came home sad and depressed. Amber had just become a Christian and had brought her Bible to school that day so she could learn more about life. But her joy and enthusiasm were dashed by the actions of the school administrator.

The most amazing thing is that the policy of the school clearly stated that students can read the Bible during their free time. And the policy of the US Department of Education gives all students the right to read their Bibles, or other religious works, during their lunch hour, recess or other free time.

It's frightening to know that, even when we have laws on the books protecting our children's right to worship and pray, these types of tragedies still occur. Perhaps the administrator in this case just didn't know the policy. Frankly, I find that hard to believe.

It's frustrating that we actually need policies and laws saying it's okay for a kid to read their Bible. That should never even be an issue. People of all faiths should feel comfortable in their right to read their religious texts.

In a culture that increasingly bombards our children with images of sex and violence, it seems to me we should be excited when our children want to read books that teach about love, morality and forgiveness. We certainly shouldn't punish them.

And our nation should not have to feel ashamed about our Judeo-Christian heritage. Our faith has taught us the values that have allowed us to create the most successful democracy in the world. We can't afford to let government drive those values into extinction.

Amber's unfortunate run-in happened about two weeks before the national See You At Pole event was set to happen. See You At The Pole is a student led movement where kids come together on the third Wednesday in September around their schools' flag-pole to pray for their families, friends, teachers and nation. It's a great program that has been going on for over 10 years now. I think our nation needs it now more than ever.

But when cases like Amber's come up, we have to wonder about the future of this country and our youth. If kids aren't allowed to read their Bible in school, how long can we expect them to enjoy the right to pray together publicly on school grounds?

Is it any wonder that classroom discipline is suffering? Is it any wonder that our younger generations are plagued by violence and apathy? Our society punishes kids for reading the Bible while turning a blind-eye when they rent an ultra-violent video game. It's a sad statement about our priorities.

Last year we introduced legislation that would have added additional safeguards to Missouri's students' right to pray in schools. The legislation would also have required the entire text of the 1st Amendment to be displayed in our schools. That way, no school administrator could ever plead ignorance. Unfortunately, the Senate didn't get a chance to send it back to us.

After hearing Amber's case, it is clear that this important legislation is still needed. It is amazing and sad that, 230 year's after our nation's founding, we are still fighting for religious freedom. Protecting religious liberty must always remain a priority for our government. Kids like Amber should never have to feel guilty for reading their Bible.


Unknown said...

Thanks for the update and reprinting Speaker Jetton's letter. It is all a balancing act but students should be allowed to pray and read religious texts in school without an incident. I agree that we need this freedom in our school more now than ever.

Betty B. said...

Wicca is one of the fastest growing religions among young people. I wonder how he would feel if the young woman had been reading the Witches' Bible.

Unknown said...

Betty B.,

Why don't you ask me how I would feel? I would feel the same way if someone was reading the Book of Mormon, the Koran, or the Wiccan Bible. I am not insecure with mine or my daughter's religious beliefs. I do not want to ban anyone's religious texts. Any student that wants to read these texts, I am all for it. If it is a text of some religion that calls for human sacrifice, then I might have some reservations. Just because I am open about my Christian beliefs does not mean that I am not alright with other people having their religious beliefs. I think we need to teach our students to be the same way.

Seth said...

These cases do happen and the school was wrong (unless the girl was yelling Bible verses at people) but this is not indicative of some large conspiracy by people seeking "to remove all vestiges of Christianity from public schools." If you ask Mike Newdow, the atheist that was behind the Pledge case, he would say that kids have the right to read the Bible in school. I supported the Pledge ruling of the 9th circuit because I believe it is the people's right to advocate for religious points of view not the government. Christians have nothing to fear from people like me who would fight for your right to read the Bible. And Randy, don't push what this school did of on we separationists.

admin said...

What was the result of this case? Rather than talk about new laws, I'd like to know what the final outcome was in this case. Did the administrator reverse his or her decision? My guess is, they would have to.

This sounds like something the ACLU would have an interest in. Did I miss this story in the national news? Jetton makes it sound as if it's been there.