Students of Freedom

Haven Bradford Gow July/August 2006

In 1994 a 10-year-old boy attending Waring Elementary School, Saint Louis, Missouri, bowed his head during lunchtime to say a prayer thanking God for his food. A teacher noticed the boy praying and proceeded to embarrass him in front of the other students by removing him from his seat and taking him to the principal's office for punishment; the boy was warned that it was against the rules to pray in school, and was told he must not pray in school again.

A girl in fourth grade in Milcreek, Pennsylvania, brought two lunches to give to needy students; attached to the lunch boxes were notes saying, "God loves you." Unhappily, a teacher witnessed the girl give the lunch boxes to her friends and also read the note. The teacher proceeded to reprimand the girl and told her never to write or speak about religion in the school again.

A public school principal in Nebraska noticed a student reading his Bible during free reading period, and then ordered him never to bring his Bible to school again. The student and his parents pointed out that the Bible was available for student access in the school library, but the principal responded that the Bible was available for "adults only."

A first-grade teacher in South Bend, Indiana, asked students to bring their favorite book from home to school to read to the class. One student brought his favorite book—the Bible—and when called upon, started to read from the book of Genesis; thereupon, the teacher immediately stopped him and informed the boy it was "against the rules" for him to read from the Bible.

While some would have us believe religion and prayer have no place in public schools, there are certain fundamental, constitutional rights that religious students in the public schools possess. Indeed, speaking for the majority in the 1981 case of Widmar v. Vincent, the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell pointed out that religious speech in the schools is a form of constitutionally protected free speech. As noted by the Rutherford Institute, a Christian legal organization based in Virginia, these are basic constitutional rights possessed by all public school students.

Students may bring their Bibles
to schools.

Students may pray together voluntarily.

Students may pray together anytime they are permitted to talk freely and in an informal manner.

Before actual classes and during recesses, students may individually and in groups pray if other expression among students also is permitted.

If students are allowed to assemble with their companions during lunch and converse in a nondisruptive manner, then students may gather and pray during lunch.

School athletes and participants in other extracurricular activities may assemble and pray together before the official start of a practice or game; this encompasses prayer circles in the locker room before athletes are required to report to the field of play.

The Rutherford Institute adds: "Inform your child of his or her right to pray—a powerful tool from God and great witness to friends."

As conservative scholar social critic M. Stanton Evans tells us in The Theme Is Freedom, "The Founding Fathers wanted to protect religion from federal government interference, not diminish its influence in our public life."

Indeed, the First Amendment scholar O. Carroll Arnold is right. "One would never dream of asserting that the government is neutral toward freedom of speech or the press, and it is (or at least should be) equally non-neutral toward religion and religious freedom."

Mr. Gow is a TV and radio commentator and writer who teaches religion to children at Sacred Heart Catholic School, Greenville, Mississippi.

Article Author: Haven Bradford Gow