Religious Liberties

New Jersey School Board Stands by "Under God" Flag

The East Hanover (New Jersey) Board of Education decided against removing the “One Nation Under God” flags from East Hanover Middle School and the Frank J. Smith Elementary School. This came in response to a letter from the atheist group, Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), asking for the removal of the two flags that fly below the American flags. It is worth noting that FFRF isn't just against the display of "One Nation Under God" on a flag. It also opposes the phrase being in the Pledge of Allegiance, as well.

This isn't the first time "under God" has come under attack in New Jersey. In 2015, the Superior Court of New Jersey found in favor of keeping "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance after being challenged by atheists. In American Humanist Association v. Matawan–Aberdeen Regional School District the Court gave this inspiring statement:

"Over and over, from the writings of the founders of the Constitutions of both the United States and the State of New Jersey, emerges a faith in, and a reliance and even dependency upon God to help secure the blessings of liberties and freedom attendant upon good governance....

"[T]he founders of our present 1947 New Jersey Constitution saw fit to preface that document by expressing the gratitude of the people of this state 'to Almighty God for the civil and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy,' and the hope that God would 'bless[ ]...our endeavors to secure and transmit the same unimpaired to succeeding generations.' The preamble to the 1947 Constitution is identical to the preamble to the Constitution of 1844.

"Indeed, the New Jersey Constitution, in various permutations since 1776, has made explicit references to 'Almighty God.' Under plaintiffs' reasoning, the very Constitution under which plaintiffs seek redress for perceived atheistic marginalization could itself be deemed unconstitutional, an absurd proposition which plaintiffs do not and cannot advance here. (Emphasis added)

"...Moreover, the words 'under God' are now as interwoven through the fabric of the Pledge of Allegiance as the threads of red, white, and blue into the fabric of the flag to which the pledge is recited. As a matter of historical tradition, the words “under God” can no more be expunged from the national consciousness than the words “In God We Trust” from every coin in the land, than the words “so help me God” from every presidential oath since 1789, or than the prayer that has opened every congressional session of legislative business since 1787." (For more information, visit The Becket Fund.)

Maybe the East Hanover schools should begin posting -- in every classroom -- the preamble to the New Jersey Constitution as a civics lesson:

"We, the people of the State of New Jersey, grateful to Almighty God for the civil and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy, and looking to Him for a blessing upon our endeavors to secure and transmit the same unimpaired to succeeding generations, do ordain and establish this Constitution."

Or, they could just summarize it with the words "one nation under God." Either way, teachers need to instruct their students on why "under God" is so important to our nation, their state, and their own lives. (Read my blog on this.)

As students grow into adulthood they will not defend what they do not cherish, and they will not cherish what they do not understand.

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

 

Public School Educators Go to Mosque

Mohamed Omar, former Lebanon Valley Mosque president and former teacher's aid in the Lebanon School District, speaks to Lebanon School District staff at the Lebanon Valley Mosque on Monday, June 8, 2015. Staff members of the Lebanon School District visited the mosque to learn more about Islam. Jeremy Long -- Lebanon Daily News The Lebanon School District in Pennsylvania made news this month because during a work day fifty of its staff attended a local mosque to learn about Islam, eat Middle Eastern food, and watch local Muslims pray. (As far as I could tell, none of the educators joined in the prayer.) I understand the outrage over the double standard—as in, “Being in a religious service doesn’t violate church-state boundaries if it is a religion other than Christianity; it just promotes cultural understanding.”

I realize that it is unlikely that school officials will now designate work days for school staff to spend time at worship services in a Catholic church, a Lutheran church, a Baptist church, and the other 53 Christian denominations in Pennsylvania to promote cultural understanding.

However, rather than pile with on more of the how-dare-schools-reach-out-to-Muslims theme, I suggest we give the school district some credit for at least engaging a portion (albeit a minor, minor, minor portion) of the faith community. (In the Lebanon School District, Muslims make up 1.8% of the student population, and statewide, Muslims are 0.6% of the population.)

We can look at it as the starting point for a larger and, frankly, more important conversation. We need to help school officials around the country understand that religion can be a very positive force in students’ lives. And while they might feel more comfortable and multicultural in starting with minority religious faiths, they need to see that local churches can be tremendous allies in helping produce what school officials are measured by most: academic success.

We all want our students to be successful academically and behaviorally. Research has shown that religion has a positive effect on these goals. Religion is not some arbitrary addition to academics; it is an important part of academic growth.

Studies indicate the positive influence of religion in students’ lives. For instance, Dr. Willem Jeynes of California State University, Long Beach, in his research (involving 4,458 students) on “The Effects of Religious Commitment on the Academic Achievement of Urban and Other Children” found:

“The results indicate that religiously committed urban children performed better on most academic measures than their less religious counterparts, even with controlling for socioeconomic status, race, and gender.”

The journal, Mental Health, Religion & Culture, in 2007 published a study involving over 7,500 children. The study, entitled the “Relationship Between Family Religious Behaviors and Child Well-being Among Third-grade Children,” concluded:

“…family attendance at religious [or] spiritual programs was significantly correlated with improved child health, vocabulary, reading, math, and social skills.”

The religious orientation of students is beneficial to schools in their quest for academic success and they should not merely tolerate it; they should engage it. Unfortunately, because of educators’ misunderstanding of the “separation of church and state,” they do the exact opposite. Thinking they must make their classrooms religion-free zones, they ignore and even ban from the classroom what research shows us is an important learning asset for students – their religious faith.

In Lebanon, PA, just like almost every other school district in America, the majority of religious students in public schools are Christians. Since there is a connection between a students’ religious involvement and academic success, educators need to get much better at publicly welcoming and affirming Christian students’ religious thinking in class.  

When Johnny expresses a religious perspective about a topic in class, rather than shut him up and bark the mantra “separation of church and state,” his teacher needs to realize Johnny is, to use education jargon, connecting life to learning. When Sally says that her opinion about an issue in the news is based on her religious convictions, the teacher should welcome the fact that she is linking her culture to real-world application. And when Miguel writes about his dependence on God for facing trials, the teacher should affirm his social-emotional development. 

I don’t think the educators in Lebanon, PA, were motivated by the idea of promoting Islam, but were simply motivated by a desire to create a more welcoming, understanding, and responsive learning environment for their Muslim students. Now we just need to help them, and many of their colleagues across the country, do the same for the Christian students in their schools.

 

 

We were shocked by what the pastor said

Kim and I were recently at a pastors' conference in Washington, DC, to talk to them about the important role they play in helping their local public schools become faith-friendly.  One pastor told us of an all-too-common incident in the life of one of the children in his church. An elementary school teacher told the student she couldn't write about Jesus. There was nothing particularly shocking about this. We hear stories all the time about teachers who mistakenly think their classrooms have to be "religion-free zones."

What shocked us was what the pastor said next.

"Everyone in our church assumed the teacher was right," he explained. "We didn't know any different."

He was delighted to learn that the teacher was wrong -- that the child does, indeed, have freedom of religious expression at school. He was thrilled to receive Gateways' Free to Speak pamphlet quoting the U.S. Department of Education regarding students' religious liberties. And we also counseled him on how to approach the teacher in a positive way.

This conversation is a good example of just how important it is that our churches understand the truth about religious and academic freedom regarding the Bible and Christianity in public schools.

That is why I urge you to bring Gateways' seminars for educators and parents to your area. On a Saturday morning, we will present "Faith, Freedom & Public Schools" to teachers and school leaders. That same weekend we will also present our seminar for parents, "Keeping Their Faith in Public Schools: How to help your children graduate with their faith and values intact".

Help the Schools in Your Community

At the educators' seminar teachers and school leaders will learn what the law REALLY says about including the Bible and Christianity in their classrooms. They'll also learn specific strategies to teach about these topics appropriately and within state and federal guidelines. In my experience, teachers' jaws drop as they realize how misinformed they have been. They are delighted to learn specific ways to teach about the importance of America's Christian heritage.

At the parent seminar parents will learn about their children's religious freedoms, the five criteria for knowing if they should remove their child from a classroom activity, how to talk to a teacher about a concern, and how to teach their children to be discerning about what they are learning.  

To find out more about bringing the seminars to your community, call (800) 929-1163 or email info@gtbe.org.

RESOURCES --------------------------------------------------

Information about the seminar "Faith, Freedom & Public Schools"

Current schedule and location of events

 

 

AP History Under Fire

national_association_of_scholarsIn early April 2015, an informal group of academic historians met to discuss concerns about the College Board’s recent overhaul of its Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) standards. That group decided to draft a public letter opposing the new standards: "The teaching of American history in our schools faces a grave new risk, from an unexpected source. Half a million students each year take the Advanced Placement (AP) exam in U.S. History. The framework for that exam has been dramatically changed, in ways certain to have negative consequences." 

To read the rest of the letter click on the link: http://www.nas.org/images/documents/Historians_Statement.pdf