If schools and school-related groups are going to enforce the so-called “establishment” clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution, it is incumbent on them to learn what the law says and doesn’t say. This issue arose last week when a lunch room supervisor at a Florida elementary school erroneously told a five-year-old she was not allowed to pray before partaking of her noonday meal.
And now it has come up again. This time, the incident involved the reading of the Bible. From the Huffington Post:
On March 20, staff at Tennessee’s Cannon County REACH after-school program reportedly told a student he was not allowed to read his Bible at school. If they let him read the Bible on school property, staff allegedly told the boy’s mother, they ran the risk of being shut down by the state.
The story is also carried by the Christian Post minus the adverbs reportedly and allegedly, though most of the facts are largely the same. So is the outcome:
The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee (ACLU-TN) stepped in when the student’s mother contacted them, seeing in the case a clear misunderstanding of what the First Amendment of the Constitution really says about religious freedom.
A letter from Thomas H. Castelli, ACLU-TN legal director, explains:
The First Amendment exists to protect religious freedom. While this means that schools may not impose or promote religion, it also means that students can engage in religious activities that they initiate, provided they do not cause a disruption or interfere with the education of other students.
The letter goes on to note that public schools are not “religion-free zones,” as many wrongly assume them to be. Some schools fear that by making accommodations for students’ religious beliefs they run the risk of going against the Constitution.
According to the HuffPo version, a REACH director Linda Bedwell [sic, also spelled Bewell in the article] claims there was never a dispute over the Bible. She maintains that the unidentified child in question arrived at the program “already upset,” having been in a fight earlier in the day. When staff asked him to put his belongings away — including his Bible — the student would not comply.
Castelli responded by noting that “no matter what really happened, the message is still just as important.” Amen.
- Did a lunch lady at school tell a 5-year-old she couldn’t pray? *UPDATE*
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