Supreme Court

Students defy the ACLU and say "God bless America"

Glenview ElementaryThe ACLU has called for an end to a New Jersey elementary school's tradition, since 9/11, of having students say "God bless America" after reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, claiming it is unconstitutional. School district officials were intimidated by the threat of legal action and have decided to no longer initiate the tradition. However, to their credit students at the school continue to say it.

Having students say the words "God bless America" as a patriotic expression is rooted in America's heritage and civic culture. Imagine if the students were taught to recite the preamble to the New Jersey Constitution:

"We, the people of the State of New Jersey, [are] grateful to Almighty God for the civil and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy..."

Glenview Elementary School principal, Sam Sassano, stood up for students' right to say "God bless America." He explained, "I recognize everyone's Freedom of Speech right. Many parents have expressed that they want their child to continue to state 'God bless America.' I do not feel I have the authority to forbid this and have assured parents that is their right."

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia would be proud of the students. In a recent speech he gave in Louisiana, Associated Press reported:

He told the audience at Archbishop Rummel High School that there is "no place" in the country's constitutional traditions for the idea that the state must be neutral between religion and its absence.

"To tell you the truth there is no place for that in our constitutional tradition. Where did that come from?" he said. "To be sure, you can't favor one denomination over another but can't favor religion over non-religion?"

The news of students exercising their right of free speech -- especially regarding what some consider too religious -- is timely. The President will soon be proclaiming January 16 as Religious Freedom Day (as every President has since 1993). I recommend school leaders and educators use the occasion to teach students a civics lesson about their religious freedom at school.

You can help your local schools do that by simply recommending they show students a 3-minute video produced by the Buncombe County (North Carolina) School District. With the help of students, teachers, and the Campbell-Shatley Law Firm, Buncombe County Schools produced The Three R's of Religion in Schools. It explains the U.S. Department of Education's guidelines on students' and teachers' religious freedom.

The Three Rs Video Image


A Gift for Teacher

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A Christmas tale by Eric Buehrer

Copyright by Gateways to Better Education - Do not reprint without permission

‘Twas the night before Christmas and the kids were all in bed. Mom, a teacher at the local elementary school, went downstairs to finish wrapping gifts under the big pine tree the family got from Mr. Cheever’s Christmas tree lot. Just as she finished putting the last red bow on the last red box, she heard the scrape, scrape, scraping of something in the chimney. No sooner had she turned around when down the chimney came Santa with a bound.

“Oh,” he said with surprise. “I’m usually pretty good at not being seen.” Then he laughed a big, round laugh and put down his bag.

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“Let’s see,” he muttered to himself as he pulled out a list of what to place under the tree. “Oh, yes.” He cleared his throat. “You’ve all been very good this year. Especially you...even with Tommy Wigglebottom in your class. You’ve been a wonderful teacher!”

“Thank you,” she said as he pulled brightly colored presents from his bag.

Quick as a flash, he was done with his deed. He looked at his list for one last read. Then he made a “har-umph” sound to himself and got a puzzled look on his face. “There is one more thing...”

“Yes?” said the teacher.

“Why haven’t I heard any singing at school?” Santa asked with a sorrowful look.

“Singing? Why, we’ve been singing. Haven’t you heard the children’s rendition of Frosty the Snowman and Jingle Bells? I know it’s a long way to the North Pole but I would think you have some way of tuning this sort of thing in.”

“I mean Christmas carols,” said Santa. “Where are the carols?”

“Oh, I loved to sing carols when I was a child in school. But, we can’t sing those now,” she said as she shook her head. “I teach in a public school.” She was surprised that Santa didn’t already know this since he knew about Tommy Wigglebottom.

“Of course you are in the public schools. But Christmas is Christmas no matter where you are. And if you’re concerned about the law, well, have no fear. Don’t you know about the Federal Appeals Court ruling in Florey v. Sioux Falls School District? It ruled that the school district's policy is fine and students may sing religious Christmas carols!”

The teacher had never heard this before and was quite surprised. “What about the separation of church and state?”

“It doesn’t apply,” said Santa. “The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that singing Christmas carols does not violate the Constitution if the purpose is the ‘advancement of the student’s knowledge of society’s cultural and religious heritage.’ I just wish I could hear them singing real Christmas songs.

“And while I’m thinking about it, why haven’t you told the children the real Christmas story?” he asked.

“You mean about the baby Jesus?” the teacher asked in disbelief.

“Is there another Christmas story that I’m not aware of?” Santa said with an impatient twitch of his mustache.

“But, we can’t promote religion in the public school,” she retorted.

“Who’s promoting?” said Santa. “You’re teaching about your culture. May I remind you of the Florey case in which the Court ruled that as long as education about the religious holiday is ‘presented in a prudent and objective manner and as a traditional part of the cultural and religious heritage,’ it is permitted.”

By now the teacher was quite confused. She had never heard this before. She always assumed that recognizing the religious aspects of Christmas at school was off limits.

“We can’t even call Christmas by its name. We have to call it ‘Winter Break,’” she said with regret in her voice.

“A tragedy of modern times,” Santa said with a sigh. “And it’s not even consistent with other public practices. The Supreme Court acknowledged in Lynch v. Donnellythat ‘Executive Orders and other official announcements of Presidents and of the Congress have proclaimed both Christmas and Thanksgiving National Holidays in religious terms. And, by Acts of Congress, it has long been the practice that federal employees are released from duties on these National Holidays, while being paid from the same public revenues that provide the compensation of the Chaplain of the Senate and the House and military services. Thus, it is clear that Government has long recognized—indeed it has subsidized— holidays with religious significance.’ ”

Santa added, “The Lynch case dealt with the public display of a nativity scene, which the Court said didn't violate the Constitution. And, in its ruling the justices actually assumed public school children are singing traditional Christmas carols. The Court wrote, “To forbid the use of this one passive symbol while hymns and carols are sung and played in public places including schools, and while Congress and state legislatures open public sessions with prayers, would be an overreaction contrary to this Nation's history and this Court's holdings.” (emphasis added)

“How is it that you know so much about United States law?” asked the astonished teacher.

“I’ve been around a long time,” he replied. “And I’m saddened to see so many children think that Christmas is just about getting video games and toys. For that matter, it’s not just about ‘Love’ either. It’s about the baby Jesus as a gift from God. When I give gifts it is only to remind people of The Gift from God to all of us. I guess I just want kids to turn off the TV and look up from their smart phones long enough to realize that there are deeper things in life—things that we carry with us from generation to generation. We have a culture with deep roots and I want to give children a little depth...then they can go back to the TV if they must.” Santa scooped up his bag, and then added, “I guess I’ve given you the best gift I possibly could. I’ve given you freedom.”

“What do you mean?” the teacher asked.

“For years you’ve lived under the burden of self-imposed censorship about Christmas. You placed a gag order over your own mouth. Now you can be free from that! You can give to your students what you had as a child in school.” He turned and started up the chimney. With a jolly chuckle, he said as he went, “Like the baby Jesus said when he grew up, ‘You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.’”

A Gift for Teacher holiday card can be purchased for $4

Christmas Resource Page

School’s Use of Scripture in Morning Announcements? No Problem.

IntercomCan a public school principal read a verse from the Bible during morning announcements? The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) doesn’t think so and has recently challenged the practice in a small school district in White Oak, Texas. The atheist group sent a letter to the school district chastising it for allowing high school principal, Dan Noll, to include a verse from the Bible during his morning announcements as a “Thought for the Day.”

Superintendent Michael Gilbert responded to the FFRF with a letter and posted on his blog:

“I am fully aware of the practice at the high school and will not pursue any action against our High School Principal or any other member of our faculty/staff concerning this issue…Let me be clear, this is an attempt to draw us into a contest of words for the sole purpose of giving the FFRF a large amount of free press/recognition that they and their very few members (1,200 in Texas) do not deserve. This group and others like it, are wanting us to provide them with negative quotes to use in the promotion of their agenda. We can and will make the adjustments needed to ensure our students experience a morally sound, positive character based education.”

A news report posted on Monday, suggests that Superintendent Gilbert will allow the practice to continue but without the school principal citing the chapter and verse when quoting the Bible. However, censoring the chapter and verse isn't necessary.

You may be thinking “How could reading a Bible verse over the school’s intercom ever be constitutional? Didn’t the Supreme Court rule that Bible reading was unconstitutional?”

In Abington School District v. Schempp the Court found that state-mandated, daily reading of scripture was a religious exercise and, therefore, unconstitutional. However, it also clarified that it was not censoring all exposure to the Bible. The case dealt with a daily routine of reading only the Bible and reading ten verses each day. That is much more heavy-handed than simply quoting a verse as one among many inspirational thoughts.

If a school wants to quote a Bible verse over the intercom as part of its “Thought of the Day” routine I recommend the following guidelines be followed:

  1. Bible verses should not make up a majority of the quotes used. Mix them in with quotes from poets, musicians, scientists, philosophers, coaches, and leaders in politics, business, and social movements.
  2. Only Bible verses that can be considered inspirational or applicable to people of all faiths and no faith should be used. For example, Proverbs 15:1 “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
  3. Citing the chapter and verse for the Bible quotation is not a problem if the origins of other quotations are cited when they are used.
  4. No Bible verses should be used that appeal to the listener to become devoted to Jewish or Christian religious doctrines.
  5. No Bible verses should be used that assume the listener believes in God. For example, avoid verses that include “The Lord says…”

If a student hears the wise words of Proverbs 15:1 and is inspired to give a soft answer to a classmate’s insult rather than a harsh response, the school atmosphere might just be a little nicer that day and the Constitution won’t be offended either.

A few words of wisdom that students would benefit from hearing and heeding:

  • “If you become wise, you will be the one to benefit. If you scorn wisdom, you will be the one to suffer.” – Proverbs 9:12
  • “Tainted wealth has no lasting value, but right living can save your life.” – Proverbs 10:2
  • “People who wink at wrong cause trouble, but a bold reproof promotes peace.” – Proverbs 10:10 
  • “Hatred stirs up quarrels, but love makes up for all offenses.” – Proverbs 10:12 
  • “To learn, you must love discipline; it is stupid to hate correction.” – Proverbs 12:1 
  • “A fool is quick-tempered, but a wise person stays calm when insulted.” – Proverbs 12:16 
  • “Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing.” – Proverbs 12:18
  • “Walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get in trouble.” – Proverbs 13:20 
  • “A wise person is hungry for knowledge, while the fool feeds on trash.” – Proverbs 15:14
  •  “Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success.” – Proverbs 15:22

When incidents like this arise, our Gateways team quickly reaches out to school officials to encourage them not to overreact and engage in unnecessary censorship. We contact school leaders and local pastors in the affected community and supply them with ways to respond that promote religious and academic liberty.



What banning this book says about the future of our society

Guest Blog from Joel J. Miller yellow-star-of-david

A California charter school has decided to pull Corrie ten Boom’s Holocaust memoir, The Hiding Place, from its library because the content was deemed too religious. Where to begin? It’s impossible to separate remembrance of the Holocaust from matters of faith; only a modern educator would try.

According to the report of a parent at the school, library staff were told to “remove Christian books, books by Christian authors, and books from Christian publishers.”

When the Pacific Justice Institute, a Christian legal defense group, sent a cease-and-desist notice, the school superintendent responded, “We . . . do not allow sectarian materials on our state-authorized lending shelves.”

So what’s the big deal? [READ MORE...]

‘Tis the Season for Censorship

The holiday season is fast approaching. Christians as well as atheist activists both relish this time of year, but for completely different reasons. People of faith see this time as a heartwarming opportunity to enjoy deeply held traditions in the American culture. Atheist activists, on the other hand, see this as the proverbial “golden opportunity” for their cause. They can hardly wait for the publicity they gain from attacking schools and town councils. In many of America’s schools, the atheists have been effective in censoring mention of the religious nature of holidays. For example, too often educators teach that Thanksgiving is merely a nostalgic remembrance of what happened 400 years ago between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans. Students get the idea that besides some dusty old origin, Thanksgiving is about Turkey, football, and being the day before Black Friday retail sales.

A few years ago, Americans United for Separation of church and State got mad at us because we “encourage teachers to use Thanksgiving to explain how the country thanks ‘God for His blessings.’” Guilty as charged. We encourage educators to actually educate their students about the meaning of Thanksgiving as expressed by the President of the United States in his annual Thanksgiving Proclamation.

For example, last year, President Obama proclaimed, “This day is a time to take stock of the fortune we have known and the kindnesses we have shared, grateful for the God-given bounty that enriches our lives… Let us spend this day by lifting up those we love, mindful of the grace bestowed upon us by God and by all who have made our lives richer with their presence.” But if atheist activists had their way, the President’s words would be censored from the classroom.

And when it comes to Christmas, many educators have been so intimated by atheist threats they censor traditional Christmas carols and references to the birth of Jesus. Consequently, the lesson students absorb is that Christmas is just a merry commercial enterprise.

During the Christmas season last year, the atheist extremists of the Freedom From Religion Foundation couldn’t resist trying to be offensive to Christians in Arlington Heights, IL, who got proper permission to set up a Nativity scene in a park. Instead of merely setting up their own display celebrating some atheist holiday in an expression of multicultural diversity, these extremists put up a display directly across from the Nativity scene with a heartwarming banner that read: “There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth & superstition that hardens hearts & enslaves minds.”

Hopefully this year school boards and town councils won’t join the atheists in singing “’Tis the Season for Censorship.