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Busted with a Bible?!

Talking to a student about life as a Christian on their school campus. I tossed out that in “some” places Christians were actually told that they could not bring their Bible, pray, talk about their faith in God or express themselves in anyway on their campus. A hand shot up and a young girl in middle school said that this had happend to her concerning her Bible. I suppose I should not have been suprised, but I was. She didnt know what to do so she did what she was told.

     We talked about it. Without getting dramatic I these students to know that (at least for now) we have rights we need to exercise and be aware of or we are in danger of losing them. Yes, we know that in the Book of Revelation we see that Christians will be persecuted. Jesus says that he was hated and we will be as well. Why because as Christians, we stand for absolute, uncompromising truth of God’s word. In this world of TOLERANCE, this is unaccapteable. (For more on this, check out some of Josh McDowells works)

     Since we talked about this topic last Sunday only briefly, I wanted to do some research and found some great stuff on students rights. It is long, but it is some great information! Here you go:

Rights On Campus

The Supreme Court has consistently upheld the rights of students to express themselves on public school campuses. In 1969 the Supreme Court held that students have the right to speak and express themselves on campus. Then in 1990, in the Westside Community Board of Education v. Mergens decision, the Court held that Bible clubs and prayer groups can meet on public secondary school campuses. This case interpreted the Equal Access Act which Congress passed in 1984 to insure that high school students were not discriminated against in the public schools because of their religious beliefs. The following is a brief look at what the Supreme Court decision means to the American Christian student. The Supreme Court’s decision in Mergens is a chance for students to share the Gospel with their peers. It is also a sign of the times. Changes are occurring around us daily. The Gospel cannot be stopped. This Supreme Court decision is an answer to the prayers of God’s people across our nation and around our world. This 8-1 decision is a clear message to the country that the time is ripe for action. The American Center for Law and Justice receives thousands of inquiries concerning students’ rights in public schools. What follows is a brief response to the most commonly asked questions:

What does a Supreme Court decision mean?

A Supreme Court decision has several meanings in our system of government. The one we are concerned with is the decision’s effect on our laws as they affect our public high schools. A decision is binding on all lower courts, both federal and state. This means that they must follow the Supreme Court ruling when the facts are similar. There is no appeal from the Supreme Court. When the Supreme Court rules in a case it becomes the law of the land.

Does the Constitution actually require that the “separation of church and state” keep religion out of the public schools?

No! First, the Constitution never mentions the phrase “separation of church and state.” That phrase was first used by Thomas Jefferson in an address to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802, 13 years after the Constitution was written and accepted as the law of the United States. Neither is the phrase recorded in the notes of the Constitutional Convention. The constitution does say: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof[.]” In fact, the Court has said, on numerous occasions, that separation is impossible. Therefore, the Constitution does not demand that religion be kept out of our public schools. The Constitution only prohibits school-sponsored religious activities. Free Exercise of Religion is our right under the Constitution.

Can students bring their Bibles to school or wear a Christian shirt?

Yes! There is no law that prohibits a student from bringing a Bible on campus with him. The student is only bound by an obligation not to “materially or substantially disrupt school discipline.”[FN2] If the student brings his Bible or wears his Christian shirt, the school cannot force the student to remove the shirt or the Bible. Shirts with a message are a form of free speech protected by the First Amendment. Mergens clarifies that student speech cannot be discriminated against on campus because of its content.

Can public school students share their faith on their campus?

Yes! In Mergens, the Court reinforced students’ rights to evangelize on the high school campus. When we combine Mergens with Tinker v. Des Moines we find that students’ rights are fully protected. Now students can express their First Amendment rights and enjoy the freedom of religion on high school campuses across the country. School officials do not have the right to control student speech just because the particular speech is religious in nature. Students have the right to pass out papers and tracts that are Christian to their peers on campus. As long as the students do not disrupt school discipline, school officials must allow them to be student evangelists. It was argued that to allow the students to meet on campus and to act as student evangelists would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. This argument was rejected by the Court in Mergens. Thus, Mergens is a great victory for Christian high school students in America. With the decision in Mergens, the Supreme Court has sent a clear message to the school systems of America. No longer will religious discrimination be tolerated under the guise of “separation of church and state.”

What rights do I have on campus during the school day?

In Tinker, the Supreme Court held that “students [do not] shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”[FN12] This means that students have the right to express their religious beliefs during the school day. “When [a student] is in the cafeteria, or on the playing field, or on the campus during the authorized hours, he may express his opinions.” [FN13] If school officials refuse to allow you to pray on campus they are censoring your speech and denying your constitutional rights.

Tinker held that students retain their First Amendment rights when they are rightfully on a public school campus. The one limitation the Court placed on the rights of the students is simple: students must not “materially or substantially disrupt school discipline.”[FN14] Thus, as long as students do not disrupt the school they have the right to pray on campus, even around the flagpole.

The nature of public schools does not justify the forfeiture of constitutional rights. In fact, the nature of public schools should enhance the constitutional rights of students and teachers. The school is to teach the student how the laws of the land apply. What better place for a real-life lesson on freedom of speech and religion?

What if my local high school refuses to allow students to meet or hand out literature on their campus in spite of the Tinker and Mergens decisions?

The American Center for Law and Justice is undertaking a national campaign to protect students’ freedoms of speech, religion and assembly. We are going to make sure that the Mergens decision is obeyed by local school boards. We will institute legal proceedings, when appropriate, to ensure the compliance of school boards with the Court’s holding in Mergens.

So Students, Parents of Students, Teachers, Administrators, Christians like all others have rights. The next blog spells them out explicitly and lists websites reference and legal as resources.


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2 thoughts on “Busted with a Bible?!

  1. Doug Indeap on said:

    The phrase “separation of church and state” is but a metaphor to describe the underlying principle of the First Amendment and the no-religious-test clause of the Constitution. That the phrase does not appear in the text of the Constitution assumes much importance, it seems, only to those who may have once labored under the misimpression it was there and later learned they were mistaken. To those familiar with the Constitution, the absence of the metaphor commonly used to describe one of its principles is no more consequential than the absence of other phrases (e.g., Bill of Rights, separation of powers, checks and balances, fair trial, religious liberty) used to describe other undoubted Constitutional principles.

    Some try to pass off the Supreme Court’s decision in Everson v. Board of Education as simply a misreading of Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists–as if that is the only basis of the Court’s decision. Instructive as that letter is, it played but a small part in the Court’s decision. Perhaps even more than Jefferson, James Madison influenced the Court’s view. Madison, who had a central role in drafting the Constitution and the First Amendment, confirmed that he understood them to “[s]trongly guard[] . . . the separation between Religion and Government.” Madison, Detached Memoranda (~1820). He made plain, too, that they guarded against more than just laws creating state sponsored churches or imposing a state religion. Mindful that even as new principles are proclaimed, old habits die hard and citizens and politicians could tend to entangle government and religion (e.g., “the appointment of chaplains to the two houses of Congress” and “for the army and navy” and “[r]eligious proclamations by the Executive recommending thanksgivings and fasts”), he considered the question whether these actions were “consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom” and responded: “In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the United States forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion.”

    The legislative history of the First Amendment belies the narrow scope you would give it. The first Congress debated and rejected just such a narrow provision (“no religion shall be established by law, nor shall the equal rights of conscience be infringed”) and ultimately chose the more broadly phrased prohibition now found in the Amendment. In keeping with the Amendment’s terms and legislative history, the courts have wisely interpreted it to restrict the government from taking steps that could establish religion de facto as well as de jure. Were the Amendment interpreted merely to preclude government from enacting a statute formally establishing a state church, the intent of the Amendment could easily be circumvented by Congress and/or the Executive doing all sorts of things to promote this or that religion–stopping just short of formally establishing a church.

    When discussing separation of church and state, it is critical to distinguish between the “public square” and “government” and to distinguish “individual” from “government” speech on religion. You are correct to note that the First Amendment does not purge religion from the public square or public schools–far from it. Indeed, the First Amendment’s “free exercise” clause assures that each individual is free to exercise and express his or her religious views–publicly as well as privately. The Amendment constrains only the government not to promote or otherwise take steps toward establishment of religion. As government can only act through the individuals comprising its ranks, when those individuals are performing their official duties (e.g., public school teachers instructing students in class), they effectively are the government and thus should conduct themselves in accordance with the First Amendment’s constraints on government. When acting in their individual capacities, they are free to exercise their religions as they please. While figuring out whether someone is speaking for the government may sometimes be difficult, making the distinction is critical.

    Wake Forest University recently published a short, objective Q&A primer on the current law of separation of church and state–as applied by the courts rather than as caricatured in the blogosphere. I commend it to you.

  2. kealnt on said:

    Doug is absolutely correct! “Church and State” is an urban myth so to speak to keep the ignorant ignorant. Doug you are obviously very intelligent. I dont know if that was off the top of your head or if you did some research as I did however I do thank your for your input. We must all remember the context in which our nations fathers drafted such documents and why. We cannot forget that they left and fought a counry that sponosored a State run Church. They certainly did not want this misjustice to ever happen again. This is why although I will not claim that I tolerate every belief as equal to my own,… I will support their right to beleive it. Thank you Doug I will check out the web site.

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