By Heather Mullinix
A few weeks ago, the Cumberland County Board of Education voted to allow the Ten Commandments to be displayed in Cumberland County Schools as a historic document, as allowed by state law. We posted preview stories about the upcoming vote, a reminder the meeting was taking place and the story that covered the discussion that took place prior to the unanimous decision on our website and on the Chronicle’s Facebook page, as we do with much of our local coverage.
While our website doesn’t allow for comments on individual stories, Facebook users are welcome to comment on the links on our Facebook page. There people proclaimed how proud they were the school board was putting God back in the schools.
I humbly disagree. I don’t think God has, or even can be, kicked out of our schools.
The U.S. Supreme Court has protected students’ individual rights to pray, dress in religious attire and express their religious beliefs in schools, so long as those actions are not disruptive to the learning environment, discriminatory or coercive to those who may not share the same beliefs. Students can form religious clubs, but they must be open to all students equally. Students can meet during non-instructional time for those clubs or spend that non-instructional time reading their Bibles or praying. Outside religious groups can use school facilities during non-school hours as long as they follow the rules of any other non-school organization
I understand why people think God has been kicked out of our schools. The labyrinth of court cases from the 1960s to today has left many scratching their heads. In many cases, school administrators are gun shy about activities that they aren’t sure will pass Constitutional muster. Many claim that while trying to ensure there was no “establishment” of religion, the courts had infringed on the rights of people to “exercise” their religion. Much of what the courts have done, however, is ensure the state isn’t telling its students or teachers what religion to believe, leaving that to the parents, where the responsibility rightly lies.
We have a variety of different religions in this country. We also have many different denominations and sects within each of those religions. I look at this way — if it were my child, would I be comfortable with the school leading a prayer from another religion? How about who led that prayer? Some denominations do not approve of women leading a public prayer. Some denominations use scriptures that aren’t used by others. How would you like your child having a reading from the gnostic scriptures?
Some might not have a problem with any of these things. Others, I suspect, would be downright angry at the thought their child would take part in anything other than a Christian prayer, and more specifically, their own brand of Christianity. The problem is, in a nation with no state-sponsored religion, and a myriad of religious traditions, we cannot hold one religion above the other in our government.
Students, teachers, principals and everyone else who enters a school can bring God with them, showing their faith through their actions. Being a Christian is about more than holding a Bible study group, which can be done. It’s about more than giving thanks for your meal before lunch, which can be done. It’s about more than bowing your head before a test and praying for God to help you to do your very best, which can be done.
It’s seen in how we treat others — with fairness and kindness, even when they may not deserve it. It’s giving of time and talents to others. It’s offering a helping hand to those in need. When I look around and see how so many of our young people are involved in making this a better community through their churches or clubs or just volunteering on their own, I believe God is still in our schools, because those young people took Him there. When I see our young people in the community conducting themselves with modesty and grace, I know God is still in our schools, because they took Him there. When I hear our young people speak up against bullying or other injustice, I know God is still in our schools, because they took Him there.
Parents, if you want your children to have a Christian upbrining, then give them one, and send them into the world to be a light to others. As an American, that is your right. As a Christian, that is your responsibility.
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Heather Mullinix is assistant editor of the Crossville Chronicle. Her column is published on Tuesday. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.