Thursday, September 07, 2006

A reponse to: "Largely evangelical movement calls for public school pullout" posted a story from AP about evangelical christian groups advocating for mass withdrawl from public schools. Stoked by annecdotes about anti-religion, gay friendly, Godless schools that teach evolution, these largely white and evangelical christians have formed and joined such groups as Exodus Mandate and the Alliance for Separation of School and State.

Some classic quotes are embedded in the story like this one from Rev. D. James Kennedy, pastor of 10,000-member Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida:

"The infusion of an atheistic, amoral, evolutionary, socialistic, one-world, anti-American system of education in our public schools has indeed become such that if it had been done by an enemy, it would be considered an act of war."

Besides being schizophrenically shaken by every major social and political movment in recent history, Kennedy is clearly unaware of the religious liberties American school children enjoy at their "amoral" and "atheistic" schools. To these people who believe that the public schools in America are diametrically opposed to religious conviction I offer a history of case law to the contrary. And now the list...

The List of Religious Enjoyments in Public Schools

Religious speech:

Lee v. Weisman, 1992, has had the effect of encouraging student led devotionals at graudation ceremonies and has led to public school space being rented by religious organizations for baccalaureate purposes (see Doe v. Madison, 1998 and Goluba v. School District, 1995). Adler v. Duval County School Board allows students to select other students to deliver graduation messages that may be sectarian in nature.

Equal access for religious expression and groups:

The Equal Access Act of 1984, upheld by the Supreme Court in 1990 in Board of Education of Westside Community Schools v. Mergens, and expanded by Cisneros v. Board of Trustees, Hsu v. Roslyn Union Free School District, and Prince v. Jacoby allows for secondary students to use schools during non instructional time for religious activities as well as provide the student groups funds and bulletin board space for their religious activities.

School access for community groups:

In Lambs Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School District the Court held that groups may use public schools for sectarian purposes after school hours. In 2001's Good News Club v. Milford Central School the Supreme Court finalized a decision begun in Lambs to allow private Christian organizations (read evangelical) to hold meetings in public schools (NY in this case) in a public school after hours. The Milford decision allows students to participate in these community groups, to the point of exclusivity.

Distribution of religious materials:

In Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors, a 1995 higher education decision that has implications for public schools, the Supreme Court ruled that religious materials published and distributed by students must be treated like any other materials published and distributed by students. The effect is the subsidizing of religious materials created by students.

Religious release programs during school hours:

A strong pedigree of support for this practice goes all the way back to 1954's Zorach v. Clauson that allowed for students to be released to receive religious instruction during school hours and had this to say: "by adjusting the schedule of public events to sectarian needs, [the state] follows the best of our traiditions." Religious instruction in trailers at the edge of the school property have even been upheld, Smith v. Smith 1975. In Holt v. Thompson, 1975, arguments about academic instruction stopping during times when many children "break" to go to religion classes did not pursuade the court. This even in the face of Hobson choice to go with one's friends or stay behind and be entertained in a small group in the traditonal classroom setting (what really happens).

Curricular exemptions from secular activities:

Many cases have upheld the right of a student to abstain from certain instructional activities like drug education sex education, co-ed physical education, dancing instruction, and officers' training programs and certain and specific course requirments as long as reasonable substitutes exist. See for example Valent v. N.J. State Board of Education, Spence v. Bailey, 1972, Moody v. Cronin, 1979, and S.T. v. Board of Education, 1988.

Religious excusal from school:

In Church of God v. Amarillo Independent School District, 1981, protects children's and teacher's rights to observe holidays within a reasonable amount (once a week leave has been denied) without fear of unexcused absences.

Public funding for sectarian schools:

The landmark 1993 case Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School District set an unchanged precedent for public monies flowing to parochial schools (sectarian or otherwise). This precedent was strengthened in 1997 in Agostini v. Felton that allowed public school personnel to provide remedial services at sectarian institutions. Mitchell v. Helms, 2000, allows federal funds to purchase instructional materials like library books, computers, and other equipment for student use in sectarian schools.

The Closer

It's become increasingly easy to see how the separation of church and state metaphor has been eroding for years in favor of equal treatment of and equal access for religious groups. People like R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who last year said the denomination needed an "exit strategy" from public schools should take a hard look at what the current public school system offers. They should heed their own warnings:

Mohler said, "One of the great missions of the public schools was to bring together children of divergent backgrounds -- I benefited from that. There is a loss in this [evangelical mass exit from public schools]."

There is a great loss in not carefully considering what public schools offer. CNN's "Largely Evangelical Movement Calls for Public School Pullout" reveals a large group of people who are not aware of what is currently possible and perhaps unwilling to consider what they stand to lose by pulling out.


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