Beliefnet
Lynn v. Sekulow

These are very interesting times.  Especially when it comes to what’s taking place in our public schools.  Barry, I don’t know if you’ve seen the news reports about the controversy in Wisconsin where school officials approved the use of a textbook that highlights and promotes the accomplishments of Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama.  The problem, as one parent put it, “No John McCain, no Hillary Clinton, no George Bush – Just Barack Obama.”

 

The textbook cites Sen. Obama’s ‘change’ theme as an example of good literature and talks about his ‘life of service.”  That’s triggered an outcry from some – including the moderator of Real Debate Wisconsin blog stated:  “This is not education folks, this is indoctrination.” 

 

At the same time, in one school district in Kansas, a 5th grade class was given an art assignment to draw a picture of their choice.  When one student drew a picture of a cross, the teacher objected.  That’s right, the teacher told the student that drawing a cross was not permitted in public school.

 

You won’t read about this incident in the news media.  But I can tell you that the student’s mother contacted our offices.  We provided the mother with an informational letter – outlining the fact that drawing a cross for a class assignment does not pose a constitutional crisis.  Barry, as you know, the fact is that the student has constitutionally-protected free speech rights – rights underscored repeatedly by the U.S. Supreme Court and cited by the U.S. Department of Education.

 

In 2003 the Department reiterated that students have the right to express their religious beliefs in assignments when it issued additional guidelines:

 

Religious Expression and Prayer in Class Assignments

 

Students may express their beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions. Such home and classroom work should be judged by ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance and against other legitimate pedagogical concerns identified by the school. Thus, if a teacher’s assignment involves writing a poem, the work of a student who submits a poem in the form of a prayer (for example, a psalm) should be judged on the basis of academic standards (such as literary quality) and neither penalized nor rewarded on account of its religious content.

 

The mother of the 5th grade student shared our letter with the school’s principal and then sent us the following e-mail: “After a brief telephone discussion, the principal agreed with me and had a stern discussion with the art teacher. Bottom line, the art teacher will allow the cross in the assignment in the public school.”

 

We’re pleased that the outcome of this issue was resolved quickly and the rights of the student were protected.

 

As for the Wisconsin textbook-flap, no quick resolution in sight.  As the school superintendent put it: “This deals with issues on how we treat our students and how we treat free speech and how we control our curriculum.  We’re going to investigate it and treat it as a serious matter that deserves a deliberate response.”

 

Barry, what do you think?

 

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