By Tom Olago
The faith of Christian students seems to be increasingly coming under siege from two major fronts: a hostile public school system, as well as from many teachers and fellow students. Not to mention a government and legal system that, in many ways, tends to engage in what has been described as the “licensed discrimination of Christians”.
Breitbart.com recently reported such an incident at West Memorial Junior High in Texas. 12-year old Jordan Wooley, a 7th grade student blew the whistle on an activity that questioned the existence of God. One Monday, a classroom assignment asked students to identify nine statements as opinion, factual claim, or commonplace assertion. One statement read: “There is a God.” Wooley claimed the teacher said that anyone who put “fact or opinion” was wrong and that “God is only a myth.”
She added that her 8th period reading teacher insisted God’s existence “can’t be proven,” and noted that a classmate submitted her handout with God listed as a fact. “My teacher crossed the answer out several times, telling her it was completely wrong.”
Wooley was testifying about the incident to members of the Katy Independent School District (ISD) board. The board apologized to Wooley and affirmed that corrective action would be taken with regards to the incident. The first step that was taken by the board was to send an apology letter to West Memorial Junior High School parents, guardians and staff. At least one other parent was reported to have privately spoken out in strong disapproval of the incident.
In the letter, the school district acknowledged that the assignment was teacher-developed and not curriculum-based, that the teacher was reprimanded and the activity scrapped. Katy ISD assured its “school community that the religious beliefs of all students and staff are welcomed and valued at West Memorial Junior High.”
The district also termed the question about God’s existence “unnecessary for achieving the instructional standard” for the assignment. However, it was further described within the apology letter as “intended as an exercise to encourage critical thinking skills and dialogue…and was not intended to question or challenge any student’s religious beliefs as reported by some media outlets.” The district asserted it was an ungraded class activity.
The Texas Education Code Chapter 25 states in part that a school district and its employees may not sponsor prayer or show preference for one religion or non-religion. Wooley’s teacher was apparently in direct breach of this section of the code when she pressed for an atheistic viewpoint to the statement about the existence of God.
Wooley, in her statement to the board added: “Another child in my class asked the teacher if we could try to put what we believe in the paper, and she said you can if you want to get the problem wrong … [but] you’ll fail the paper if you do.”
Deny the existence of God, or fail. This seemed to be the curt ultimatum delivered to the students. Ironically though, the district remarked that the teacher herself is a Christian, and that the assignment has been misunderstood.
According to an extract from the school statement: “The teacher is distraught by this incident, as some commentary has gone as far as to vilify her without knowing her, her Christian faith, or the context of the classroom activity…Still, this does not excuse the fact that this ungraded activity was ill-conceived and because of that, its intent had been misconstrued.”
Unfortunately, indications are that these types of incident are prevalent and multi-faceted, with Christian students often facing ridicule or other forms of persecution whenever they practice their faith, or otherwise express and celebrate it.
In 2013, public school students who had endured ridicule for their Christian beliefs created a newly released video, titled “The Thaw.” In it they ask: “Why can’t I pray in school? Why am I called names because I believe in marriage the way God designed it? Why can’t Tim Tebow praise God after making a touchdown without causing a national uproar?”
The motivation for the video idea came about when a public school teacher asked students to write an essay, titled “I Believe,” without using the names God or Jesus Christ in their papers.
Gary Brown is founder of Reach America, a national education organization based in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. He observed at the time that attacks against Christian students were a national problem, and the video has already prompted many students to reach out to him and share their stories of censorship in America’s public schools.
According to a Charisma News report earlier this year, 12 year-old Mackenzie Fraiser, a sixth grader at Somerset Academy in North Las Vegas, Nevada, was made to endure an unfortunate incident. In February, she was instructed by her technology teacher to create a PowerPoint demonstration about her life. One of the requirements was to include a slide with an inspirational message.
So Mackenzie decided to use a Bible verse—specifically John 3:16. That familiar passage reads: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
But the teacher had a problem with Mackenzie’s inspirational message. She explained to the class that none of the students would be allowed to use any Bible verses or quotations from the Book of Mormon. The message was clear–you cannot be inspired by religion.
A few months later, in yet another similar incident, the school confirmed to Mackenzie’s parents that students had been told to refrain from using religious references. The school defended the teacher on the grounds that she was simply following “school law expectations.” The Fraisers then contacted Liberty Institute, a religious liberty law firm that specializes in these sorts of legal disputes.
Said Liberty Institute President Kelly Shackelford: “Government officials telling little girls they can’t mention God is not the law…It’s unlawful discrimination and it’s morally wrong.”
The Fraiser family was to be represented by Liberty Institute attorney Jeremy Dys, who said the U.S. Department of Education clearly permits students to use Bible verses in class assignments, and should withhold funding for any public school that did not protect the rights of religious students in the same way as transgender students, who already enjoy such legal protections.
Early in 2014, General Counsel Bob Tyler of Advocates for Faith and Freedom told Christian News Network of a “marked increase in hostility toward Christian students in public schools”. In one of several examples, he stated that the mother of a seventh grader in the Boston area called the organization that month to complain that one of the teachers at the child’s school, who is an atheist, was belittling the student’s faith.
The atheist teacher said, “We atheists laugh at you Christians. No one will believe in God [in 50 years] because science has proven that there is no God. How humiliating that would be.”
But Tyler said that his organization is fighting back to ensure that students retain their rights and are not censored by secularists. He stated that some are now using what he called the “reverse Establishment Clause” in the courts to protect religious freedom, as provided for in First Amendment liberties. He further added that “…we need to set legal precedent because there’s not much legal precedent that has been established to tell school teachers and school officials that they must not show hostility toward Christianity”.
Fighting back does work, and is well worth the time and effort. A few months back, the Advocates for Faith and Freedom reported one such victory in the form of a ‘thank you’ message to its supporters.
The message read in part: “Thanks to your support, Advocates for Faith & Freedom was able to help Tracy Stevenson, mom to fifth-grader Ryan, when the principal improperly prohibited the student from donating a Bible to the school’s library. After consulting with Advocates, the parent met with the principal and gently informed her on the legality of the Bible donation. Not only did the principal realize she was wrong, but the school is now accepting the parent’s offer to donate more religious materials!”
The message continues to say: “As this story shows, many educators across the country are simply ill-informed when it comes to the constitutionality of religious freedom at public schools, and when provided sound legal arguments to support religious expression, many educators are willing to do the right thing.”
Read more at http://www.prophecynewswatch.com/2015/November05/054.html#5g1zKw8q5vidAA33.99