The average citizen, school superintendant or teacher knows that in the United States of America there is something referred to as the “separation of church and...
Bringing the Bible Back in Public Schools-Part I
The average citizen, school superintendant or teacher knows that in the United States of America there is something referred to as the “separation of church and state”. Where did this come from? What does it mean? And, how is it affecting us today?
The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights states: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Thomas Jefferson referenced the First Amendment when writing to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802. His purpose was to assure the Baptists they should have no fear of government interference with their religious worship.
Jefferson stated: Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.
Although the phrase, separation between Church and State, never appears in the United States Constitution or the Bill of Rights, it has been presented repeatedly as the foundation for religious freedom in the U.S. because of Jefferson’s famous letter. In 1948, the Supreme Court used the “Separation of Church and State to outlaw formal school prayer. In 1962, the Supreme Court again declared that prayer in school was unconstitutional. In 1963, the Warren Court stopped schools from allowing Bible reading in classes. In 1980, the Supreme Court declared that posting the Ten Commandments in a school classroom violated the Constitution of the United States.
On the other hand, this past December, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found the Phillipsburg School District in New Jersey to be in violation of the law when it fired middle school teacher,Walter Tutka, for giving a Bible to a student. They believed that religious discrimination and retaliation was at play with his firing.
The student kept asking Tutka questions about a biblical phrase which was randomly used by Tutka in conversation. The boy showed so much curiosity that Tutka gave the boy his Bible. The Bible was then confiscated as “contraband”. It was found that the Bible was given for purely “academic” purposes and that no “preaching” was involved, showing that no law had been broken.
Similarly, there is the recent story of a 12-year-old in Bueker Middle School in Marshall, Missouri. He was asked to put his Bible away, which he was reading during recess. This student was told that the Bible is not permitted in the classroom. His parents are claiming that the boy’s right to freedom of religion and speech have been violated. The principal states that it was all a “misunderstanding”.
The situation is in stark contrast to a situation in Bartow County, Georgia, last month. There, representatives from Gideons International were permitted to distribute Bibles to children at Cloverleaf Elementary School. Although, it seems that children could “voluntarily” accept the Bible, students who did not want one were teased and ostracized.
Freedom From Religion Foundation has threatened to file a lawsuit if the practice did not stop. They believe that the law is very clear and strong. Religion has no place in the public school system.
Next week we will further explore this hot and controversial subject. In the meantime, what are your feelings about Bible distribution or reading in public school? Is the separation of church and state taken too seriously or are the lines blurring? What do you think about bringing the Bible back in Public Schools? We’d like to hear from you.