When you consider that the first common schools in this country were established for the purpose of Christian instruction, the current climate of hostility toward all things Christian in the public school environment is sobering. Legitimate concerns about government-sponsored religion have been blown out of proportion to the point that voluntary student activity involving the Christian religion-without the slightest nod of endorsement by the state-is prohibited. While separationist extremists operate under the freedom of religion banner, the fact is that they are on a campaign to smother religious freedom for Christian students. In the next chapter we'll see further examples of discrimination against Christians in public schools covering a broad scope of activities. The sheer number and variety of these cases prove that the separationists are determined to purge public schools of Christian thought, symbols, and expression.
Christianity Out, Part 2
FOLLOWING THE 1999 MASSACRE at Columbine High School, school officials gave students and their families an opportunity to paint tiles with images and words above student lockers. But the administrators were apparently surprised that some families chose to mourn the dead with Christian symbols and verses. They removed some ninety of the 2,100 painted tiles because they contained such "objectionable" phrases as "God is Love" and "4/20/99 Jesus Wept." The parents of two slain students, Daniel Rohrbough and Kelly Fleming, were among those affected. The families sued and the federal district court held in their favor, ordering the tiles returned to the walls.
But that wasn't the end of it. Just one day after a federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court, and held that school officials had been within their rights to ban the tiles. The court referred to the tiles as "school-sponsored speech" even though the school was not involved with suggesting content and did not censor any other viewpoint. But the Court defended its viewpoint discrimination, stating, "If the [school] district were required to be viewpoint neutral in this matter, the district would be required to post tiles with inflammatory and divisive statements, such as 'God is Hate,' once it allows tiles that say 'God is Love."
The families' attorney, John W. Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute, said that the Court of Appeals "has said, in essence, that the Constitution allows public officials to search out and censor religious speech simply because it is religious. This is hostility toward religion, not tolerance and inclusion of all." Rutherford correctly noted that the school district initiated the undertaking in the first place by inviting students and families to decorate the walls and thereby opened the memorial project to community members.' It is inconceivable that the school didn't anticipate an outpouring of religious expression following the tragedy. One of the plaintiffs remarked, "The school district apparently believes in freedom from religion instead of freedom of religion." Regrettably, the Supreme Court declined to review the case and resolve the conflict that exists in various jurisdictions over whether schools may engage in viewpoint discrimination. So a ruling that equates "God is Love" and "Jesus Wept" with "inflammatory and divisive" speech will stand. Once again, exaggerated concerns over church/state separation trumped religious freedom.
Meanwhile in Syracuse, New York, Antonio Peck's kindergarten teacher at Catherine McNamara Elementary School gave Antonio the assignment of creating a poster that would depict what could be done to save the environment. Antonio drew a picture of Jesus Christ praying and captioned the drawing, "The only way to save the world" and "Prayer Changes Things." The teacher refused to display the poster, saying it promoted one religion over another. (Of course Anthony was promoting his religion over others, but it was Anthony doing the promoting, not the school.) Anthony went back to the drawing board and sketched people picking up garbage with a robed man beside them, kneeling with his hands raised to heaven. The robed man was not identified as Jesus. The teacher agreed to display the second poster, but on the condition that the part showing the robed man was folded over so that it could not be seen. The Pecks have sued the school for religious discrimination and denial of free speech. Antonio's attorney, Erick Stanley, explained, "One thing we are arguing is that ... the school's censorship of that was related to nothing other than a hostility to religion. Religion is a part of his everyday life, and he didn't understand why his picture was inappropriate in school." And indeed, it was not inappropriate. What is inappropriate is the attitude of the public schools that every free expression of religion needs to be either suppressed or covered with a fig leaf. Who was acting more like a child here, the student who innocently incorporated religion into his poster or the school that required the religious part to be covered?
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