By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
November 12, 2020
A high school can teach students using a book that is overtly hostile toward Christianity, but a 9-year-old isn’t allowed to wear a “Jesus Loves Me” face-covering in the classroom.
“This is the sad state of public education in America,” said the Rev. Mark Creech in response to two incidents in the news this past week.
First, the North Carolina case: U.S. District Court Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr. ruled against parents seeking a temporary restraining order that would have stopped a Huntersville high school from using The Poet X in its English classes despite the book’s obvious disparagement of the Christian faith.
Written by Elizabeth Acevedo, the The Poet X is a coming-of-age story that chronicles a 15-year-old’s rejection of Catholicism and her quest to find her voice as a slam poet. Xiomara’s poems call the story of Genesis “mad stupid” and the Bible nothing more than metaphor. Jesus, the poet says, feels like “a friend who texts too much” and “a friend I just don’t think I need anymore.” These are just a few examples of its attacks on faith.
Attorney Joel Bondurant, who is representing John and Robin Coble against their ninth-grader’s school, Lake Norman Charter, said the book violates the religious clauses of the First Amendment. In the lawsuit, he points out that “The school’s plan to teach the book to the young impressionable minds in their public secondary school runs afoul of the basic precept underpinning the Religion Clauses — that government must remain neutral in the matters of religion and is certainly forbidden from promoting or endorsing materials that exhibit hostility toward any particular religion.”
But, according to Judge Cogburn’s 17-page opinion issued Nov. 6 denying the restraining order, there is not enough evidence that the Coble’s lawsuit would be successful. The judge defended the school’s claim that it is not purposefully attacking Christian faith, but is using the 368-page book primarily to teach students about poetry and, in Morgan’s words, to “create a space for critical discussion about diverse worldviews.”
The judge noted that Lake Norman Charter informed parents that the book would be used this semester and offered students opposed to reading it an opportunity to choose another book taught in a separate class, but he also issued a caution of sorts for the school.
“The Court is troubled by Defendants’ decision to teach a book that is so controversial that they have an established opt-out procedure in place,” Cogburn wrote. He reminded school officials that “public schools are entrusted with the children of diverse families from diverse religious backgrounds”
Also in the news this week, in Mississippi, parents of a third-grader filed suit after she was ordered on Oct. 13 to remove her face mask because it featured the words “Jesus loves me.”
According to media reports, Lydia Booth, 9, was provided with an alternative mask at Simpson Central Elementary in Pinola. The school later issued a statement banning any mask that displays “political, religious, sexual or any inappropriate symbols, gestures or statements that may be offensive, disruptive or deemed distractive to the school environment.”
However, according to Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the family in its legal battle, other students in the school district have freely worn masks featuring sports team logos or the words “Black Lives Matter.”
“Public schools have a duty to respect the free expression of students that the First Amendment guarantees to them,” ADF attorney Michael Ross said. “This student deserves an equal opportunity to peacefully express her beliefs.”
The Rev. Creech was not surprised by either lawsuit.
“Over and again, tremendous consternation is demonstrated over materials with any religious content, more specifically, traditional Christian content, in the public schools, but if the display or materials smack of being anti-Christian, the same standard isn’t applied,” Creech lamented.
Acknowledging, as he has in the past, the many good Christian people in the public schools, Creech said the fact remains that public education is not neutral when it comes to Christianity.
“It is characteristically hostile towards it. And these incidents are two of multiple examples,” he said. “Many parents will say they can’t afford a Christian education for their children. But in most cases, I think we can afford whatever is most important to us. I do believe if your children are in the public schools, it would be prudent for their spiritual welfare and development to get them out. I think it’s imperative to either send them to a Christian school or homeschool them. I have said this for a long time. Otherwise, you might be sorely disappointed one day to hear them say, ‘Jesus feels like…a friend I just don’t think I need anymore.’”
On Monday, the Cobles took their fight to the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, where a three-judge panel rejected the injunction. Even so, their appeal is still pending.
The Mississippi case, filed on Nov. 2, has not been decided.