GOD IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOL
BY JAMES ‘RAT’ SAUNDERS
As a youth pastor drove onto a public school campus to speak at an assembly, he noticed the principal standing at the front door to meet him. He welcomed him with open arms and said how excited he was to
have him there, but he did have one thing to say before the assembly. This is where I get the lecture about mixing church and state, the youth pastor said to himself. Instead, the principal said, “When you’re
finished with the assembly I want you to ask all 1,200 students to invite Jesus Christ into their lives.” Needless to say, the youth pastor was amazed. And when he finished his presentation, he did just what the principal had asked. He gave an altar call, and over three-fourths of the student body came forward and made a decision for Christ.’
You may be thinking, that’s great but it’s also illegal. You’re right. It’s illegal to give an altar call in a public school in the United States. But this story took place in Russia, a country that rejected the gospel for decades but is now hungry for the Word of God.
The myth of separation of church and state has been used as grounds to expel God from the public school system. But Christians still have rights guaranteed by the Constitution. We need to learn what they are and exercise them.
THE PUBLIC SCHOOL AS A MISSION FIELD
Who would you say has the largest youth group in your area? The Baptists? The Nazarenes? The Assemblies of God? No, the largest youth group anywhere is found on junior high and high school campuses. The church has put great efforts into missions, and rightly so, but we need to reach our “Jerusalem” as well. The public schools in our area are a huge mission field that we often overlook.
We live in a country where religious freedom is just that–the right to freely express one’s religious beliefs. No matter how it may appear, the courts are on our side. In 1984, Congress ruled schools could not discriminate against public school students because of their religious beliefs. On June 4, 1990, the U. S. Supreme Court upheld the ruling. It said public secondary schools receiving federal funds and allowing non-curriculum related clubs to meet on campus must also allow Bible clubs and prayer groups, as long as they’re initiated by students. The Equal Access Act of 1984 also provides that guest speakers may be invited to speak in Christian clubs.
Contrary to popular belief, the courts haven’t entirely disallowed prayer at school graduations; they ruled prayer is permissible when it’s a voluntary, student-led prayer. Student speakers, such as a valedictorian or salutatorian, may initiate prayers, give Christian testimonies, and acknowledge God as they choose. As Acts 4:29 states: “And now, Lord . . . grant that Thy bond-servants may speak Thy Word with all confidence . . .” (NASB).
PRAYER AND THE PUBLIC SCHOOL
Because the public school system has such an influence on our children, we cannot allow the enemy to gain any more ground. We must exercise our rights and take back what belongs to us. Many of the efforts made against Christians look too big to combat, but we serve a great God. We need revival in our public schools, and prayer can make it happen. Consider the following: Farmer Johnson went into a hardware store where he was told a new chainsaw could cut five large oak trees in an hour. He bought the chainsaw and went to work. Before long, he was mad. The new saw only cut one tree in eight hours. When he took it back to the hardware store, the surprised owner took the saw outside and pulled the cord. A bewildered Farmer Johnson asked, “What’s that noise?” Many today make the same mistake by trying to accomplish spiritual feats on their own power. We need God’s power, and that power comes through prayer. We’ve made inroads regarding Christian rights in the public arena, but we have a long way to go. Prayer must ccompany
action as we persevere.
The U. S. Supreme Court has ruled that a school may not impose religious instruction or mandatory prayer upon its students, but it hasn’t prohibited these activities altogether. Students have constitutionally protected rights that are not surrendered when they walk onto campus. The Students’ Bill of Rights on a Public School Campus will help you and your child understand the law. Here are its points:
The right to meet with other religious students. Students have the right to meet anywhere on campus to discuss religious issues. Students may share their religious beliefs with any other student. They cannot force their beliefs on others, nor can they disrupt school activities, but students are otherwise able to exercise their religious freedoms.
One afternoon I went to a high school to speak at a Bible club. The principal, who wasn’t familiar with the Students’ Bill of Rights, asked what 1 planned to do at the meeting. I told him as part of my visit 1 planned to read the Bible and pray. He nervously said he didn’t believe 1 was permitted to do either activity. Like many principals, he was misinformed. I said I would respect his wishes and not read the Bible or pray, but I promised to bring him a copy of the Students’ Bill of Rights. Some would have argued, knowing the law protected their rights, but I didn’t want to jeopardize my relationship with the principal or the Bible club. I told the members that I was asked not to pray or read the Bible, but since I wasn’t asked not to quote Scripture from memory, that’s what I did. That day, more than sixty students gave their lives to Jesus Christ. Now, more than two hundred students attend that Bible club, and they’ve impacted their school and their community..
The right to identify religious beliefs through signs and symbols. Students are allowed to wear clothing and jewelry that display religious sayings and symbols. They’re also allowed to have Christian book covers and to hang posters in their lockers. These can be great witnessing tools. As a further witness, Christian students could select a day to wear t-shirts or sweat shirts that lift up the name of Christ.
The right to talk about religious beliefs on campus. Students are permitted to talk individually or in groups about religious issues, including inviting other students to go to church with them. They can share subjects discussed in church or youth group. They might consider using the following survey as a tool to reach fellow students:
1. Do you attend church? ( ) yes ( ) no
2. Do you attend a youth group? ( ) yes ( ) no
3. Do you believe in heaven? ( ) yes ( ) no
4. Do you believe in hell? ( ) yes ( ) no
5. Where do you think you’ll go when you die?
After sharing the survey, students can invite other students to attend church with them or even lead them in a sinner’s prayer.
The right to distribute religious literature on campus. Students may hand out tracts, flyers, or other religious materials on campus. They may not distribute them during class time, nor can they stuff them
into lockers. They must individually hand such materials to another student. Christian clubs have the right to use school bulletin boards and the public address system for advertising purposes, as long as other campus clubs are permitted to do the same.
The right to pray on campus. Students are allowed to pray over their meals and with other students, as long as they don’t disrupt the activities of others.
The right to carry or study the Bible on campus. Students may take their Bibles to school and read them during study times or after tests while waiting for other students to finish.
At a local high school, a student was dismissed from the classroom for reading his Bible after a test. The assistant principal supported the teacher’s actions. When I contacted them, I found they didn’t know the student was within his rights.
The right to do research papers, speeches, and creative projects with religious themes. Students have the right to do research papers on biblical themes, to talk or write about the Bible in literature and history classes, and to do presentations and art projects on religious subjects. Giving a personal testimony during a speech or addressing subjects such as Christian values, abortion, and cults are well within a student’s rights.
The right to be exempt. Parents have the right to review materials taught in the classroom and, when they violate religious beliefs, request alternate materials. Students can be exempt from participating in class assignments that are contrary to religious beliefs. A proper chain of command should be used when requesting alternate assignments, beginning with the teacher. If the teacher will not grant the request, go to the principal. If that doesn’t work, go to the superintendent. Next, contact your school board, and if you haven’t been satisfied, take the matter to court. Usually, the teacher or principal will comply with a parent’s or student’s request.
Christian children should not be force-fed ideals that go against God’s principles. For example, they should not be forced to color witches and other occult symbols during Halloween. Parents are well within their rights to have their children exempted from such assignments or activities. It’s important for parents to preview materials for sex education, AIDS awareness, and other controversial health issues. Know what’s being taught and, when it violates your religious beliefs, exercise your rights.
The right to celebrate and study religious holidays on campus. Students can distribute Christmas cards, sing religious carols, and study the meaning of Easter, Christmas, and other religious holidays.
The right to meet with school officials. The school board is your friend. Many board members run for office because they care about young people. Generally, they will listen when you attend meetings to discuss
issues that affect your children. If you feel your child is being treated unfairly on religious issues, go to the board and voice your concerns. If they are unwilling to listen, elect school board members that will be sensitive to such issues.
There are excellent materials that can help Christian students make a stand on their public campuses. Take a Stand, a campus ministry manual for students, produced by the Youth Alive Department of the
Assemblies of God, is one. 5
For Christians, the public school campus is the major battleground of the free speech issue. Our young people must not be deceived into silence. Eight-five percent of those who come to Christ do so before they graduate from high school. With so many life and death issues facing teens today, they need to know about Christ. Christian students are the only ones that can reach them on campus. As Jeff Swain, Youth Alive director of the Assemblies of God, says, “You’re either a missionary or a mission field.”
Parents, you don’t have the same rights on campus as your children, but you can get involved. Pray for teachers, administrators, staff, and school board members. Volunteer in your children’s classrooms. Get involved in PTA. Be a presence in the public school system, and be a silent but positive witness for Christ.
If you experience problems concerning religious rights on | campus, contact one of the following organizations for assistance:
National Legal Foundation
6477 College Park Square, Ste. 306
Virginia Beach, VA 23464
(804) 424 4242
(Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism)
P.O. Box 450349
Atlanta, GA 30345
For more information about student rights on campus, purchase “Students’ Legal Rights” by J. W. Bnnkley.6
The Reverend James “Rat. Saunders has served as youth pastor at Trinity Assembly of God in Fairmont, West Virginia for six years. He is a popular speaker at youth camps, conventions, revivals, and in junior
high and high school assemblies. He has also served on the Marion County Board of Education for the past ten years. He has organized Bible clubs in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, and
Washington, D. C. and holds seminars on students legal rights.
He graduated from Southeastern External Degree Program College with a major in Bible and Theology.
He and his wife Pam are the parents of eighteen-year-old Jason and seventeen-year-old Jaime.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY “FOCUS ON THE FAMILY”, 1996, TAKEN FROM PARENTING, AND COMPILED AND EDITED BY HAL DONALDSON AND KENNETH M.
DOBSON. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.