Academic Standards

God, State Constitutions, and Your Kids

BP - God & State Constitutions By John Stonestreet

God, natural rights, religious freedom -- all great topics, but NOT for public school classrooms, right? Wrong. You can talk about these things in public schools.

Here’s a thought: nearly everyone in America lives in a state that officially acknowledges God.

If it’s been awhile since you’ve taken a look at your own state’s constitution, you’re probably in one of the 45 of our 50 states that officially recognize that (1) there is a God, and (2) that they are thankful to Him for their freedom.

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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.

UPCOMING GATEWAYS EVENTS:

CLICK HERE to see the cities where we are conducting our seminars this fall.

To bring our seminar "Faith, Freedom & Public Schools" to your community, CLICK HERE.

 

Teacher Complains to Parents about Son's Bible Reading

Today, Fox News reporter Todd Starnes reported on a case of blatant religious discrimination in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. A fifth-grade teacher at Park Lakes Elementary humiliated a boy by calling his parents – while the rest of the class watched – and complained to his parents that their son, Giovanni Rubeo, was reading “a religious book” – the Bible! Starnes reported that as the other students watched, the teacher left a terse message on the family’s answering machine.

“I noticed that he has a book – a religious book – in the classroom,” she said on the recording. “He’s not permitted to read those books in my classroom.” (Listen to the voicemail she left)

It is frustrating that censorship of Bible reading in class persists when the U.S. Department of Education has clarified for the past 19 years that reading the Bible during free reading time is perfectly legal. Since 1995, the federal government has issued guidelines to all public school superintendents on three separate occasions (1995, 1998, and 2003) asking them to inform teachers and students of their religious rights. The guidelines specifically state:

“Among other things, students may read their Bibles or other scripture, say grace before meals, and pray or study religious materials with fellow students during recess, the lunch hour, or other non-instructional time to the same extent that they may engage in nonreligious activities.”

The law is clear about Giovanni’s freedom to read the Bible during free reading time. Sadly, even after 19 years and three nationwide publications, many teachers are not familiar with these federal guidelines.

Ironically, fifth-grade teachers in Florida are expected to teach about the influence of Christianity when it comes to people’s rights. In Gateways to Better Education’s report, “The Bible in State Academic Standards,” we highlight where the Bible and Christianity are expected to be taught in all 50 states. According to the Florida Department of Education, fifth grade students are to:

“Explain the definition and origin of rights. Examples are John Locke's ‘state of nature’ philosophy, natural rights: rights to life, liberty, property…” (Civics and Government, SS.5.C.1.3)

In our report’s introduction we point out John Locke’s biblical thinking in the late 17th century when he wrote:

“The state of Nature has a law of Nature to govern it, which obliges every one, and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions; for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent and infinitely wise Maker; all the servants of one sovereign Master, sent into the world by His order and about His business; they are His property, whose workmanship they are made to last during His, not one another's pleasure.” [Emphasis added]

John Locke would most likely shake his head in disbelief that an American teacher thinks she must suppress a child’s religious freedom while being expected to teach about natural rights that come from God.

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Download a free copy of our 12-page introduction to The Bible in State Academic Standards.

Find out more about Gateways’ pamphlet, Free to Speak: What the U.S. Department of Education says about public school students’ religious liberties.

Teachers Tell Their Stories

Listen to four teachers tell how Gateways' seminar, "Faith, Freedom & Public Schools," helped them overcome their fear to teach about the importance of the Bible and Christianity as they relate to history, culture, and values.

Oklahoma & Ten Commandments

Last week, the local school board of Muldrow, OK, reluctantly decided that plaques of the Ten Commandments posted in its high school’s classrooms had to be removed. They did this in order to avoid a lawsuit threatened by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.



Leading up to the pivotal school board meeting, people made T-shirts and posters declaring their support for the plaques. The local paper reported that the board president Scott Chambers, emotionally told the crowd at the school board meeting that the plaques had to come down. Parents, teachers, and residents were outraged and disappointed over the decision.


But, I have good news regarding how to turn this seemingly negative situation into a positive opportunity. At Gateways to Better Education, we encourage people to see the actions of groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation as an opportunity to unify the community. From that unity and passion, people can then advocate for substantive improvement in what is taught.
 
Symbolism such as plaques can be wonderful. But, given the choice between symbolism and substance, I’ll take substance any day.


For example, Oklahoma has 170,000 high school students. Most people don’t know that ALL OF THEM are expected to learn about the Bible and its impact on Western civilization.


Oklahoma’s academic standardsinclude at least three standards providing the opportunity for its students to learn about the Ten Commandments:

“Cite specific textual and visual evidence and compare points of view to examine the philosophical contributions of the Enlightenment including the writings of Montesquieu, Locke, and Thomas Jefferson; the early experiences of colonial self-government; and the influence of religious texts including The Bible to the foundation of American political thought.”

“Examine the origins, traditions, beliefs, and impact of Judaism on ancient and modern societies including the religious concept of monotheism and its influence into the modern eras.”

“Summarize the impact of the world’s major religions of Buddhism, Christianity, Daoism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism on modern societies.”

In addition to this, Oklahoma has two laws that support teaching students about the Ten Commandments, the Bible, and the influence of America’s Judeo-Christian heritage.

§70‑11‑101. Sectarian or religious doctrines ‑ Forbidden to be taught in schools. No sectarian or religious doctrine shall be taught or inculcated in any of the public schools of this state, but nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit the reading of the Holy Scriptures. (Laws 1971, c. 281, Section 11‑101. Eff. July 2, 1971.)

 

§70-24-106.1. Classroom display - Motto of the United States of America. 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". For purposes of this section, "classroom" means any room of a public school where instruction takes place. (Added by Laws 2004, c. 197, § 4, eff. July 1, 2004.  Amended by Laws 2009, c. 100, § 1, eff. July 1, 2009.)

HERE'S MY CALL TO ACTION: Every church leader, parent, and educator in Oklahoma needs to make sure their local schools are actually teaching what is already expected regarding the Bible and Christianity. That's where Gateways can help. In my experience, too many educators don't know these standards exist and, if they do, they don't know how to implement them with confidence.

Gateways to Better Education offers a professional development seminar that equips public school teachers, in every state, how to legally and appropriately teach about the Bible and Christianity across the curriculum. Click on the link for more information on bringing Faith, Freedom & Public Schools to your community.