A few weeks ago, an elementary school teacher in Tennessee told her class to write about someone they idolized. Ten-year-old Erin Shead decided to write about God.
“I look up to God,” she wrote. “He will always be the #1 person I look up to. I love him and Jesus. Jesus is His earthly son.”
But Erin’s teacher told her that she could not write about God—and that her paper could not remain on school property. Erin had to start over. Reluctantly, Erin then wrote about Michael Jackson. Yikes.
After the incident made the news, Shelby County Schools issued a statement saying “no laws or district policies allow teachers to limit students’ expression of religious beliefs in their personal classwork. This was a regrettable misunderstanding, and we as educators must learn from it.”
Bravo! I’m glad the school district corrected the misunderstanding.
Because too many teachers mistakenly think that their classrooms somehow need to be religion-free zones. That’s simply not true.
Eric Buehrer of Gateways to Better Education—a ministry to Christian parents and educators in public schools—points out that many teachers are not only afraid to talk about religion themselves, but they even stop students, like Erin, from exercising their constitutionally-protected right of free speech. It’s not that teachers are necessarily hostile to Christianity. They are just tremendously misinformed and afraid of getting in trouble.
However, students’ religious liberties are clear. The U.S. Department of Education has issued guidelines for the past 18 years that clearly explain that students in our public schools have the right to express their faith in their assignments. They can witness to their classmates, read their Bibles at school, and yes, they can pray.
The majority of Christian families send their children to public schools. So it’s time we begin helping our schools become more faith-friendly places. And that can begin with Christians already in the system.
For example, Emily was a first-grader in Southern California. As Christmas approached, her teacher told the students to bring their favorite holiday books, and she would read them to the class. But when Emily brought her Bible so the teacher could read about the first Christmas, she was told the Bible wasn’t allowed at school.
This came to the attention of a district school administrator, who just happened to be a Christian. So he initiated a district-wide retraining of all the elementary teachers regarding students’ religious liberties and how to properly address religious holidays.
Eric Buehrer points out that instead of looking at our schools from an “us versus them” perspective, we should say, “We are them! We’re the teachers, the principals, the school board members, and even the superintendents! The problem is,” says Buehrer, “too many Christians are uninformed about exactly what can be done in schools and how to do it appropriately.”
But here’s the good news: Gateways to Better Education now offers a School Improvement Checklist. It focuses on religious and academic freedom. And it helps schools become places where students feel the freedom to express their faith and learn about the Bible and Christianity. It provides a list of exactly what school policies should be in place and what practices are permissible in the classroom.
Please come to BreakPoint.org, click on this commentary, and we’ll link you to the School Improvement Checklist.
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