First Amendment Freedom
Shouldn’t it apply to public schools, too?
by Linda Gilden
When the forefathers of this country drafted the Constitution in 1787, their goal was to create a “more perfect Union,” a place where all men and women could live in harmony. Providing these principles to live by mandated the creation of guidelines to accomplish that goal.
One of those early goals was to “secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.” At the time of the drafting of the Constitution and the addition of the Bill of Rights shortly after, those men of faith guiding this nation had no idea that those rights would be challenged repeatedly.
Recently, the Supreme Court of the United States declined to hear appeals to two highly publicized cases involving religion in public education. These rulings limit religious messages in classrooms. Because of these rulings, questions have arisen about the freedoms that were set in place by the forefathers.
One case involved an Idaho charter school’s plan to use a curriculum that included books such as the Bible, the Koran, Confuscius’ works, and others. In court papers the Nampa Classical Academy said they were not promoting any one religion but using textbooks that relied on primary sources.
In the beginning, the Idaho board of education approved the charter school’s planned curriculum. However, shortly after, the Idaho Public Charter School Commission prohibited religious documents from being part of it.
The other highly publicized case was an appeal from California calculus teacher Bradley Johnson. For several years, Johnson had displayed banners in his math classroom that had words including the word God: “In God We Trust,” “One Nation Under God” and others.
Johnson contended that his colorful banners were patriotic and expressed the same language as found in the Declaration of Independence and other official documents. They had been part of his classroom since 1982. “Johnson’s banners contain phrases and slogans central to our nation’s history and heritage, and they reflect the foundations of our nation. The banners do not contain quotes or passages from sacred Scripture or any other religious text,” stated the American Freedom Law Center.
Johnson complied with the order to remove the banners from his classroom but sued the school district. He provided examples of other classrooms displaying posters with pictures of the Dalai Lama, Mahatma Gandhi, and messages such as John Lennon’s song, “Imagine,” which includes lyrics about imagining no religion at all.
In 2008, a federal judge ruled in Johnson’s favor. But later, the Ninth Circuit Court reversed the decision, saying the banners in Johnson’s classroom should be considered speech by a government employee.
The denial of the U.S. Supreme Court to hear Johnson’s appeal and that of the Nampa Classical Academy allows the ruling of the Ninth Circuit to stand.
What would the forefathers of this country have to say about the discussion on the subject of religion in public education? Would there even be any need for discussion? No matter what part of the country you live in, you have probably heard discussion on the constitutionality of religion in the public schools. Discussion of religion has been going on since the founding of public education and will most likely continue.
President Ronald Reagan once said, “If we ever forget that we’re one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under.” As you pray today, ask God to:
Linda Gilden is director of writing programs for CLASSeminars, Inc. She holds degrees in French and Religious Education and not only writes full time but also directs two writers conferences, Carolina Christian Writers Conference and CLASS Christian Writers Conference. Linda lives in South Carolina where she finds plenty of opportunities to encourage writers.