Even after 20 years of defending religious freedom, we at Alliance Defending Freedom still marvel at the extraordinary lengths people will go to block even the mildest, most innocuous interactions between Christians and public schools. Three recent cases illustrate the kind of opposition you and your family face in trying to live out your faith in even the most simple, straightforward, non-threatening ways.
In Golden Valley, Minnesota, for instance, children from Robbinsdale Area Schools wanted to help volunteers at Calvary Lutheran Church prepare pre-packed meals to send to starving and malnourished children in Haiti. No worship services, no hymn singing, no Bible lessons – just people from the community working together to help other people.
But the American Humanist Association (AHA) heard about it, and decided feeding hungry people isn’t nearly as important as keeping youngsters away from what one of our attorneys calls the apparent “spiritual asbestos” of a church environment. They sent a letter of complaint. We have sent a letter of our own, reminding administrators that the First Amendment bars the kind of religious discrimination AHA is encouraging them to engage in.
“The Constitution does not prohibit students from cooperating with a religious organization to help starving families, which is not any sort of government endorsement of religion,” says Legal Counsel Matt Sharp. “Neutrality toward religion does not permit schools to discriminate against beneficial programs simply because they are run by Christians. That is not neutrality but the very hostility toward religion that the First Amendment forbids.”
Christians also got under the skin of school administrators in Lubbock, Texas, when they asked to display their faith-based ad on a jumbotron during high school football games. The Lubbock Independent School District denied the ad for JesusTattoo.org because of its religious message.
The website features an image of Jesus Christ wearing tattoos that represent the sins he bore on the cross, and a video showing struggling individuals going to Jesus for help. Using a tattoo pen, Jesus changes their negative tattoos, representing their struggles, into positive ones. Officials say they denied the ad because district policies and practices prohibit them “from allowing religious advertisement with the use of government property based on the Establishment Clause.” And yet … those policies haven’t kept them from allowing ads from Full Armor Ministries, Lubbock Christian University, Sunset Church of Christ’s Just Kids Preschool, and Bethany Baptist Church (not to mention a lot of non-religious, non-school-related organizations).
So our attorneys have filed a lawsuit against the district in federal court over the denial of the advertisement, reminding them, too, of the First Amendment” and that “government may not discriminate against private speech based on its viewpoint, regardless of the forum in question.”
Meanwhile, in Missouri, state officials are actually discriminating against private recreation, informing the owners of a Columbia pre-school and daycare center that they can’t have recycled tires for their playground – because the center is sponsored by a church.
Trinity Lutheran Church Child Learning Center in Columbia sought a grant from the state’s Department of Natural Resources to participate in its annual Playground Scrap Tire Surface Material Grant Program. The center wished to remove and replace a large portion of the pea gravel surfacing on its playgrounds with a safer, recycled, pour-in-place rubberized product.
Program officials admit the center qualifies for the program, and that they’ve often allowed other religious daycare centers to participate. Still, a federal judge declined to reconsider her decision to dismiss the lawsuit. So we have now appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit.
Writer H.L. Mencken, an atheist, famously defined Puritanism as “The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” Well, if so, the torch of gloom has long since been passed on to his fellow anti-believers and their school administration cohorts, who seem terrified that somewhere, someone is doing good – or just enjoying life – in the name of Christ. Please pray for our staff and allied attorneys, as they work to preserve your religious freedoms – keeping their patience and showing the love of Christ amid the absurdities they face every day.
Attorney General Garland’s memo is a severe government overreach that chills the constitutionally protected speech of those who rightly object to ill-considered policies that harm our nation’s school children.
Earlier this week, Senator Lindsay Graham introduced Senate Resolution 407, legislation that celebrates religious schools and their contributions to our country by designating the first week of October as “Religious Education Week.”
Parents expressing concern over CRT, gender theory, and COVID-related mandates in public schools do not qualify as “domestic terrorists.”