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Christian Action League Leads and Offers Seminar: ‘Students’ Rights in Public Schools’

Contact the Christian Action League and set up a seminar for your church

By L.A. Williams
Correspondent Christian Action League

SPRUCE PINE — Can public school students legally hand out Bible tracts during lunch? Can a teen-ager be sent home for wearing a pro-life T-shirt if it offends someone else? And isn’t there a rule against kids meeting in their public school library for Bible study?

All these questions and many more were addressed Monday night at Mount Carmel Baptist Church during a Students Rights in Public Schools Seminar led by Dr. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina.

“Christians need not leave their faith at the door of the schoolhouse, but they may express their faith freely, without fear of violating the law,” said Garland Honeycutt, who helped promote the event, which was sponsored by the Mitchell County Baptist Association and targeted students, parents, teachers, faculty and administrators.

He said more than 90 people attended, including personnel from three different school systems and employees from federal education agencies as well.

“I think it was most informative. I feel like it would be beneficial if every student and every teacher all over the United  States would have access to this information,” said Cathy Miller of Linville, the Avery County vice president of the Mayland (Mitchell/Avery/Yancey) Citizens for Faith and Family Values. “I think it would be very good for churches to have Dr. Mark Creech come in and teach this. … It is information that we need …. It is information that we don’t get anywhere else.”

Addressing everything from clothing and jewelry to graduation prayer, Dr. Creech assured the crowd that contrary to popular belief, public schools are not supposed to be “religion-free or God-free zones.”

Citing the 1969 U.S. Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District, he said students are “persons” under the Constitution and keep their fundamental rights even when under the authority of the school, among those freedom of expression and freedom of religion.

“You have a right to free speech during non-instructional time at school. You can witness to your classmates before and after school, in between class, in the cafeteria or on the playing field,” he said. “You can even share your faith during class, as long as it’s consistent with the subject matter being discussed.”

He said if a student stays within the parameters of a given assignment, there is no reason that an oral report or book report can’t center on a religious topic. Neither can a teacher prohibit a young child from bringing in a religious item for show and tell, again as long as it meets the criteria of the assignment.

Although he warned students not to try to hand out tracts during class time, he said passing out literature is a great way to share their faith at bus stops and in hallways between classes. He also said that schools can’t legally demand that such handouts be previewed by staff or placed in a designated area.

“Don’t let them get away with doing that,” he said. “Just as a school cannot require all students to report to a designated location before expressing themselves verbally, schools cannot limit literature distribution in the same way…. Printed speech enjoys the same constitutional rights as verbal speech.”

Although he said schools may place limits on what’s printed on a T-shirt since clothing is worn inside the class during instructional time, if secular messages or symbols are allowed, the school can’t prohibit similar T-shirts or jewelry that contain religious themes. For example, if a school allows students to wear a T-shirt with a Nike symbol or the slogan, “Just Do It,” officials can’t prohibit one with the message “Know Jesus, Know Peace,” he said.

Similarly, if the school allows non-curriculum related secular clubs to use its classrooms for meeting space, it must allow religious groups equal access. The same is true for other benefits as well, he said, from the use of bulletin boards and intercom systems to club fair booths or use of copy machines. Only if a group “substantially” interferes with a school’s normal operations can it be prevented from meeting there.

Dr. Creech cited the student-led See You at the Pole event — set for Sept. 26 this year — as a perfect example of equal access and a great way for young people to share their faith.

Jordan Buchanan, a junior at Mitchell High, said he felt more equipped to do so after Monday’s seminar.

“This was truly a blessing,” he said. “I have renewed confidence in expressing my beliefs in high school now and don’t feel intimidated by teachers or school officials.”

Jim Deaton, a volunteer with the Yancey Baptist Association, also had praise for the event.

“I thought Dr. Creech did a better job than any lawyer could,” he said. “He was very factual, clear and concise, and we have a lot more latitude than people realize.”

Sarah Jane Hall, a student at Regent University, said the event proved to her that, “Students really have more power than they often think that they do.”

It was that power and influence of young believers that Dr. Creech wanted most to encourage.

“Don’t underestimate the significant impact you can have for Christ while a teenager,” he told the group in closing.

“If you will be an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity (love), in spirit, in faith, and in purity, you can turn your world right side up for the Lord,” he added. “You can change your school. You can influence it for eternity. No place in all-of-the world is the witness of Christ more desperately needed than in our nation’s public schools.”

Take Christian Action:

To find out more about the seminar or to plan one for your community, contact the Christian Action League by calling (919) 787-0606.

To listen to the audio of response by participants Click Here

We apologize the audio  is not very good because of our limited equipment. Nevertheless, it suffices for the purpose of letting you hear first-hand how participants in this seminar felt about its value to them.

A special thanks to Garland Honeycutt, an intern with the Christian Action League, for doing the interviews.

Daniel Whetstine is Director of Missions for the Mitchell County Baptist Association, you can read his recommendation letter for the seminar by Clicking Here