The US Constitution guarantees religious freedom. At the same time, there have been constant attempts from a variety of sources to muzzle Christians and persecute those who openly profess their faith. Over and over we see Christians prevented from doing things that other religious groups or anti-religious groups are free to do. This can create a tendency for us to overreact when a problem arises.
The school board in Bartlett, Tennessee, shut down a Bible Club because of threats by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The Bible Club was for first and second graders, and the stated purpose was to read the Bible and pray. When I was teaching at Riley High School in South Bend, Indiana, we had a Gospel Chorus made up of students who met in the school outside of class time. I was part of a before-school program where I presented my lectures to students who wished to hear them and discuss the content. When I taught at Jackson High School in South Bend, we had mini-courses where for a week during homeroom, students could choose from a variety of activities. They could listen to my presentations in Christian apologetics, go swimming in the school pool, attend a class on ballroom dancing, play basketball, or attend a variety of other classes including a class on Islam taught by a Muslim cleric.
So what is the difference between all of these cases and what was going on in Bartlett? The chorus, the mini-courses, and the before-school classes were all initiated by the students. Attendance was their choice, and their parents could come and sit in on what was taking place. In the Bartlett situation, the classes were set up and taught by adults. Students did not elect to participate in the Bible reading. The teacher decided that. Adults also would lead the prayer and decide its content. At Jackson High, the students could choose whether to participate. In Bartlett, pressure on children to participate was an inevitable consequence of the program. One wonders as to who was reading the Bible, what translation they were using, and who chose what part of the Bible to study.
Christians should stand up for our religious freedom, but that does not mean we have the right to force the Bible on first and second-graders in public schools. We need to be careful not to deny the rights of others in the process of standing up for our own rights.
–John N. Clayton © 2017