Updated: Jul 13
We just passed the fourth anniversary of helping our daughter stand up for religious rights in public school. Since she moved to live with her mother a few months after that time, and two years later we began homeschooling our two boys, this whole situation has kind of been forgotten. BUT WE NEED TO KNOW THAT THIS KIND OF THING IS STILL HAPPENING! So, here's the background:
In May 2015, Mackenzie was a 12 year old sixth grader at a charter school in North Las Vegas, Nevada, and was living with us full time (Her mother had moved to Tennessee in October of 2013). Her technology teacher assigned a PowerPoint Presentation entitled All About Me but explained that students were "not allowed to use any Bible verses or quotations from the Book of Mormon or anything like that" on the slide that was to include an "Inspirational Message" important to them (um....what?). Mackenzie wanted to use John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life" but (according to her teacher) she was not allowed. So she instead chose, "A smile is the best makeup a girl can wear." We didn't know about this at first, since this was done completely at school.
However, about that same time Kenzi received another assignment addressing the topic of self-esteem. At dinner one night, she asked our opinion on how to approach it. We reminded her that we get our self-esteem by knowing we were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and that the Bible tells us in Psalm 139:14 we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Therefore, since God created us, HE gets to say what we are! We also mentioned that, in Christ, we are:
God's children (John 1:12)
Free from condemnation (Romans 8:1)
A temple for the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19)
Redeemed and forgiven by God's grace (Ephesians 1:7)
Chosen, holy & beloved (Colossians 3:12)
It was at this point that our precious little girl tells us that "We aren't allowed to talk about God in school." WHAT?!!?? She then told us about the earlier All About Me assignment. My husband was hoping she had just misunderstood what the teacher said so he wrote an email seeking clarification. The reply was shocking, as the administration confirmed that they were simply following “school law expectations” for students to not use religious references. We knew what the school was saying was not accurate and so we contacted a religious liberty organization, Liberty Institute, for help. Tim described the situation, asking for suggestions on how to approach this with the school. The very next day, Jeremy Dys called, offering to help us (for FREE), by flying out and holding a press conference with us 😬. He said:
"Not only does the U.S. Department of Education clearly permit students to use Bible verses in class assignments, but if a school official tells students that their beliefs cannot be expressed in class assignments, it teaches them that religion is bad."
First Liberty sent a demand letter to the school which gave three reasons for why they should have allowed Mackenzie to include the Bible verse in her project:
The U.S. Constitution protects the religious expression of students.
The U.S. Department of Education guidelines protect the rights of students to express their faith in class assignments—and these rights do not end if an assignment is to be presented in class.
Censoring students’ religious expression teaches students that it is wrong to express faith at school and can make students afraid to express their religious beliefs.
Two days after sending that letter, the school responded by basically saying "OOPS we made a mistake" and agreeing to allow Mackenzie to resubmit her original project, including her favorite Bible verse, John 3:16. Praise God!
While we were so proud of Kenzi for standing up for what is right, and grateful for Jeremy Dys and First Liberty for their support, and thankful that the school formally issued an apology, we were so disappointed that the teacher never, ever talked about it again! She could have said something like: "Hey class, you know how I said that you couldn't use a religious quote? Well, I thought that was the law, but it turns out I was wrong. I thought "separation of church and state" meant you couldn't talk about God in school, but actually, the First Amendment states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." So, it turns out your right to free speech doesn't stop at the school door. How about that?" But no. NOTHING like that. What a missed learning opportunity! Sigh.
I will soon have a follow-up article about how our youngest ran into something similar at the same school (Reason #25 why we now homeschool!).
And, please, leave a comment if you've ever been in a situation like this. I'd love to hear your story!
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