Atheists Demand School Remove Painting -- and School Officials Stand their Ground

A painting on display in an Oklahoma middle school's main office has caught the ire of atheist activists who are demanding that officials immediately remove it, reports Billy Hallowell at The Blaze. Hallowell reports:

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist activist group, sent a letter to district officials on August 25 complaining over the image, which features children praying in front of an American flag.

The poster, based on a painting titled "Faith in America" by artist Donald Zolan, has been hanging in Kenneth Cooper Middle School in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for nearly two decades. But the Freedom From Religion Foundation claims it violates the U.S. Constitution.

The district, though, doesn't appear to be budging.

Hurrah for the school officials! But of course, the atheists won't go away quietly. Their attorney is claiming that merely having the painting in the school office means that students are "forced into regular contact" with it and "coercion is virtually assumed." Coercion to do what?

Under the picture of the children praying against a background of the American flag, are the words, "Faith in America." The atheists should be grateful that school officials haven't acted on Oklahoma Law 70-24-106.1 and substituted "Faith in America" with the words of the national motto, "IN GOD WE TRUST."

School officials would be acting in accordance with Oklahoma Law which states:

"Principals and teachers in each public elementary and secondary school of each school district in this state may display in each classroom, school auditorium, and school cafeteria under their supervision the following motto of the United States of America:  'E PLURIBUS UNUM (Out of Many One)' and 'IN GOD WE TRUST'."

In fact, the folks at the Freedom From Religion Foundation should be grateful that school officials haven't acted on that law and placed the national motto in every classroom in every school in every school district in the state. (But, maybe people across Oklahoma will blog to their school officials and recommend it!)

Other Ways to Look at the Message of the Painting

Reflecting Oklahoma's Constitution These atheist activists choose to look at the painting as some kind of constitutional violation. However, it could also be viewed as an artistic representation of Oklahoma law. For instance, maybe the children in the painting are simply portraying the first six words of the Preamble to the Oklahoma Constitution, and are "invoking the guidance of Almighty God." Maybe school officials should post those words under the painting and attribute them to their state constitution.

Expressing a Civics Lesson Maybe the painting is a visual civics lesson on the liberties of students protected by Oklahoma Law 70-11-101.1 which requires:

"The board of education of each school district shall permit those students and teachers who wish to do so to participate in voluntary prayer."

Depicting an Academic Standard Maybe the painting is depicting the children complying with the Oklahoma academic standard for first graders regarding Citizenship Literacy that expects children to sing My Country 'Tis of Thee which includes the lyrics:

"Our father's God to, Thee, Author of liberty, To Thee we sing. Long may our land be bright, With freedom's holy light; Protect us by Thy might, Great God, our King!"

Portraying Oklahoma's "Moment of Silence" Law Maybe the painting is simply a portrait of school children complying with Oklahoma Law 70-11-101.2 which requires that:

"The board of education of each school district shall ensure that the public schools within the district observe approximately one minute of silence each day for the purpose of allowing each student, in the exercise of his or her individual choice, to reflect, meditate, pray, or engage in any other silent activity that does not interfere with, distract, or impede other students in the exercise of their individual choices."

While atheists assert that the painting endorses religion, others can look at the painting as depicting school children acting in accordance with Oklahoma state laws and academic standards.

The offended atheists should thank their lucky stars (or whatever they offer thanks to) that most Oklahoma educators aren't familiar with just how much they CAN legally do to make their schools faith-friendly places.

As educators learn all the things they can do in their classrooms, they will move from fear of atheist threats to academic and religious freedom. And in the process they will create a better future for their students. 

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Gateways to Better Education's mission is to create a better future for our children by keeping God in our schools. We help public schools become places where students feel the freedom to express their faith and where they gain an academic appreciation for the Bible and Christianity across the whole curriculum as it relates to history, culture, and values. We show educators how to do this legally and appropriately within existing constitutional boundaries and in keeping with current laws and state standards. 

RESOURCES:

To find out if your state has similar laws, visit www.gtbe.org/report.

If you'd like to clear up the confusion and misinformation about the "separation of church and state" in your school district, visit www.gtbe.org.

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