July 16, 2009
As her contribution to a school mural, Melissa Yates painted a cross with the words “I believe, do you?” School officials quickly whitewashed her artwork, erasing her expression of faith.
Olivia Turton wanted to sing her favorite song, “Awesome God,” during an after-school talent show. She was denied permission to do so.
Harrison Kravat asked to read the Bible during quiet reading time at school. He was told to take his Bible home.
Elizabeth Johnson proposed to her teacher a book report on the Book of Exodus. Her teacher said “no.”
Each of these students has a story to share—about how their religious freedom was squashed by school officials who were either ignorant of the law or fearful of offending the ACLU.
After legal motions were filed for each of these situations, Melissa re-painted her cross, Olivia sang her song, Elizabeth completed and submitted her book report, and Harrison read his Bible at school during quiet time.
But a lot of time and legal expenses could have been spared if school officials had simply followed the Department of Education’s guidelines on students’ freedom of religious expression.
Over the past 14 years, the Department of Education, in both Democrat and Republican administrations, has issued guidelines to public school superintendents. The point was to ensure that the classroom is a safe place for students of all ages to express their faith in class discussion and homework assignments.
In many cases, the guidelines have either been filed away or never made it into the hands of school principals, teachers, parents, or students. As a result, too many schools still violate students’ civil liberties regarding their freedom of religious expression.
To help schools honor students’ religious liberties, Gateways to Better Education and the Alliance Defense Fund have launched the National Free to Speak Campaign. The campaign’s goal is to promote greater awareness of the U.S. Department of Education’s guidelines on student’s freedom of religious expression. Every teacher, parent, student, and concerned citizen needs to know about the religious liberty of students, as outlined in these guidelines.
Here’s how the Campaign works. Gateways to Better Education has created a pocket-sized student pamphlet entitled “Free to Speak: What the U.S. Department of Education says about public schools students’ religious liberties.” It explains seven religious liberties schools must honor.
For every set of 100 pamphlets you order, you can also designate a school of your choice to receive a special letter from the Alliance Defense Fund. An ADF attorney will send a personalized letter to that school principal clarifying the religious liberties of students and teachers at that school.
Gateways and the Alliance Defense Fund hope to distribute half a million pamphlets and reach 5,000 schools by year’s end. To find out more about the National Free to Speak Campaign, visit our website, BreakPoint.org.
Working together, we can ensure that public schools are safe places for students to express their faith—just as the U.S. Department of Education has affirmed and our Founding Fathers clearly intended.
Chuck Colson’s daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.