Virtual Voices

God expelled from school district

Religion

Last week, the ACLU won an injunction in Florida that officially removes prayer, God, and religious activity from the Santa Rosa County School District. U.S. District Court Judge Casey Rodgers made the ruling after school officials admitted to the religious activity. The ACLU, on behalf of two high school students, sued the district, Pace High School Principal Frank Lay, and former Superintendent John Rogers.

According to the Pensacola News Journal, the injunction states the Santa Rosa County School Board and its employees are prohibited from:

  • Promoting, advancing, aiding, facilitating, endorsing, or causing religious prayers or devotionals during school-sponsored events.
  • Planning, organizing, financing, promoting, or otherwise sponsoring religious baccalaureate services at all schools within the Santa Rosa School District, including at Pace High School.
  • Holding school-sponsored events at religious venues when alternative venues are reasonably available.
  • Permitting school officials to promote their personal religious beliefs and proselytize students in class or during school-sponsored events and activities.
  • Otherwise unconstitutionally endorsing or coercing religion.

According to the Pensacola paper, the ACLU says the school district violated the First Amendment when it allowed elementary graduations and middle school Christmas concerts to be held at churches, when teachers and staff at Pace High School preached about "Judgment Day with the Lord," and when teachers and staff offered Bible readings and biblical interpretations during student meetings.

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This ruling might actually be a blessing in disguise for all of us. Protestants tend to forget about the religious persecution endured by Roman Catholic families attempting to put their children in America's public schools in the 19th century. The parochial school movement was started, in part, to give the children of Catholic families a persecution-free place to learn. This was during an era where Catholics were seen as enemies of Protestants.

The type of Protestant today who might object to the Florida ruling would curiously also likely raise objections to the following: elementary schools holding graduations in Mosques; classroom instruction being interrupted to pray during Ramadan, the Muslim spiritual holiday; and teachers reading and interpreting passages from the Koran in student meetings.

My guess is that the same Protestants who might object to the Florida court ruling would also object to an elementary school principal reading the Buddhist "Daily Affirmation Prayer" over the school's intercom system everyday before school begins. The prayer reads:

Entrusting in the Primal Vow of Buddha,

Calling out the Buddha-name,

I shall pass through the journey of life with strength and joy.

Revering the Light of Buddha,

Reflecting upon my imperfect self,

I shall proceed to live a life of gratitude.

Following the Teachings of Buddha,

Listening to the Right Path,

I shall share the True Dharma with all.

Rejoicing in the compassion of Buddha,

Respecting and aiding all sentient beings,

I shall work towards the welfare of society and the world.

Since the Bible charges the church, not the public schools, with task for spreading the Good News, perhaps this injunction will help some Christians not to rely on the state to do what the Bible calls them to do (Matthew 28:18-20). Perhaps this injunction will help some Protestants understand that if you want "prayer in school," in a secular and pluralistic society like the United States is today, you must be willing to accept the fact your neighborhood's children also could be praying to Allah, Buddha, Sulevia, Sirona, Rosmerta, or Epona. Protestants can no longer assume that Christians will always in be in positions to determine which religious activity is allowed and which is not.

If you want your children to have an education that is uniquely tied to a Christian worldview in the classroom, then send them to a good Christian school or teach that to them yourselves (Deuteronomy 6:1-25). If you want your children's non-Christian friends to learn about Christianity, love them well personally and bring them to church. If you want your son's teammates, for example, to learn about Jesus, have them over to your house for breakfast once a week before school starts to hear about the Kingdom. This is the work of the church.

Some Protestants will see the ruling as scandalous while others will welcome it. In the end, this is yet more evidence of the fact that America is not a Christian nation.

Anthony Bradley
Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of theology and ethics at The King's College in New York and serves as a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. He is author of Liberating Black Theology. Follow Anthony on Twitter @drantbradley.

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