We are approaching another anniversary of helping our daughter stand up for religious rights in school. She was in 6th grade when she wanted to talk about God in school. She’s about to graduate high school this week! The next year, Mackenzie moved to live with her mother. And the next year, we began homeschooling our boys. So, this whole situation was kind of forgotten. BUT WE NEED TO KNOW THAT THIS KIND OF THING IS STILL HAPPENING!
Talking about God in School
In May 2015, Mackenzie was in 6th grade and living with us full time (Her mother moved in October 2013). Mackenzie’s technology teacher assigned a PowerPoint Presentation entitled All About Me. But, she explained: “You are not allowed to use Bible verses or quotes from the Book of Mormon.” This included the slide that was to include an “Inspirational Message” important to them (um….what?). Mackenzie wanted to use John 3:16 as this was the first verse she memorized.
According to her teacher, this was not allowed. So she instead chose the quote: “A smile is the best makeup a girl can wear“. We didn’t know about any of this, since it was all done completely at school.
Another School Assignment
About that same time Kenzi received another assignment addressing the topic of self-esteem. At dinner one night, she asked our opinion on how to approach it. We reminded her that we get our self-esteem by knowing we were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). We also said that the Bible tells us in Psalm 139:14 we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Therefore, since God created us, HE gets to say what we are! We also mentioned that, in Christ, we are:
- God’s children (John 1:12)
- Free from condemnation (Romans 8:1)
- A temple for the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19)
- Redeemed and forgiven by God’s grace (Ephesians 1:7)
- Chosen, holy & beloved (Colossians 3:12)
It was then our precious little girl tells us that “We aren’t allowed to talk about God in school.” WHAT?!!?? She then told us about the earlier All About Me assignment. My husband was hoping she had just misunderstood what the teacher said so he wrote an email seeking clarification. The reply was shocking. As the administration confirmed that they were simply following “school law expectations” for students to not use religious references. We knew this was not accurate so we contacted a religious liberty organization., Liberty Institute, for help. Tim described the situation, asking for suggestions on how to approach this with the school. The very next day, Jeremy Dys called, offering to help us by flying out and holding a press conference! He said:
“Not only does the U.S. Department of Education clearly permit students to use Bible verses in class assignments, but if a school official tells students that their beliefs cannot be expressed in class assignments, it teaches them that religion is bad.”Jeremy Dys, First Liberty Institute
The Demand Letter
First Liberty sent a demand letter to the school. This letter detailed three reasons why they should have allowed Mackenzie to include the Bible verse in her project:
- The U.S. Constitution protects the religious expression of students.
- The U.S. Department of Education guidelines protect the rights of students to express their faith in class assignments—and these rights do not end if an assignment is to be presented in class.
- Censoring students’ religious expression teaches students that it is wrong to express faith at school and can make students afraid to express their religious beliefs.
Two days after sending that letter, the school responded by basically saying “OOPS we made a mistake” and agreeing to allow Mackenzie to resubmit her original project, including her favorite Bible verse, John 3:16. Praise God!
We were so proud of Kenzi for standing up for what is right! And grateful for Jeremy Dys and First Liberty for their support. We we also thankful that the school formally issued an apology. BUT we were so disappointed that the teacher never, ever talked about it again! She could have said something like: “Hey class, you know how I said that you couldn’t use a religious quote? Well, I thought that was the law, but it turns out I was wrong. I thought “separation of church and state” meant you couldn’t talk about God in school. But actually, the First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. So, it turns out your right to free speech doesn’t stop at the school door. How about that?” But no. NOTHING like that. What a missed learning opportunity!
And, please, leave a comment if you’ve ever been in a situation like this. I’d love to hear your story!
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