By: Katie Heller
I went to the store recently to pick up some items for an upcoming trip, and I saw a little girl prancing around the store proudly wearing her new backpack (which actually appeared to be wearing her). The school supplies section of the store was buzzing with parents trying not to have a panic attack over finding the exact sized crayon box and #2 pencils specified on their child’s must-have supplies list. Having been out of school for many years, and not having any kids myself, I forgot that the first day of school for many students was right around the corner.
I’ve had the honor of working with young people in various environments for over 10 years. What always inspires me about them is their courage to be bold—not caring what others might say about them. We often think that the real “change makers” these days are adults who write books, give impassioned speeches, and, have a large Twitter following. Unfortunately, students don’t often come to mind. But, they should.
Let me introduce you to five students under the age of 25 who have been real change-makers for religious freedom in their communities.
Brian Hickman, 5th Grade
After auditioning for his school’s talent show with a performance to a Christian song, the school contacted Brian’s mom telling her that the song Brian chose was too religious and that in order to perform in the talent show he would need to pick a new song. With the help of ADF, the district not only settled the lawsuit immediately and allowed Brian to perform to his song, but it also changed its district-wide policy allowing religious performances at school events. Brian’s decision to fight for his religious freedom impacted nearly 700,000 students in Los Angeles.
Chase Windebank, 12th Grade
Chase challenged his school’s “separation of church and state” policy when, after three years of meeting without a problem, he was suddenly told that he could no longer use the open time during a “seminar” period to gather with other students to sing religious songs, pray, and discuss topics from a faith-base perspective.
After researching his rights and contacting ADF for help, Chase settled the case with the school district. Although the district chose to cancel the open time altogether instead of continuing to allow all groups to engage in free discussion, Chase showed great courage in taking a stand not only for his rights, but for his faith.
Emily Brooker, College Senior
During her senior year in college as a social work major, Emily’s professor assigned a project that required her and her classmates to advocate for foster and adoption rights for homosexuals, culminating in the signing of a letter that would be sent to the state legislature. After explaining to her professor that she couldn’t advocate for something that went against her faith, Emily was called into a hearing because of a serious grievance filed against her. At the end of a two and a half hour interrogation of Emily and her Christian faith, Emily was given an ultimatum—sign a contract vowing to “close the gap” between her faith and the social work program, or she would not be allowed to complete the program and graduate.
Faced with no other choice, Emily reluctantly signed the contract, and after receiving her diploma, took legal action against the school for violating her freedom of religion and expression. Ten days after the complaint was filed, the school president publicly apologized to Emily and began an investigation into the department, ultimately uncovering serious misconduct in the department and ending in swift personnel changes.
Georgia Crawley, 1st Grade
Georgia wrote a class-assigned poem—a poem that referenced praying to God for peace and strength—about her war-veteran grandfathers for her school’s upcoming Veteran’s Day program. Before reciting her poem during the celebration, Georgia was forced to remove her references to God due to a complaint by one parent. The local community packed a school board meeting to express their outrage at the censorship of Georgia’s poem.
After being contacted by several community members, ADF sent a letter to the district explaining the rights of students and asked the district to revise its speech policies. As a result, the district changed their policies to protect the rights of students to talk about their faith at school. Georgia was invited to read her complete poem at a school board meeting and received enthusiastic applause.
Katie Ayers, 5th Grade
Katie took on her school district after they refused to allow her to pass out fliers inviting her classmates to her church’s Christmas party. Both the district court and U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit found that the school district’s speech policies were unconstitutional. Katie’s win had far reaching impact. Not only did the district change their policies, but over 2 million students in more than 500 school districts had their speech rights upheld by the bravery of this courageous young lady.
A child attending public school doesn’t have to leave his or her faith at home. Schools are supposed to welcome all viewpoints and encourage students to engage in learning by sharing various viewpoints. Schools shouldn’t censor speech just because they don’t agree with it.
As parents, grandparents, and future parents it’s important to know your child’s rights when it comes to sharing their faith at school. Here are a few resources you might find helpful.
- Frequently asked questions for K-12 students and teachers and university students who desire to share and live by their faith at school
- Information specifically for university students
As a new school year approaches, remind your student that living their faith isn’t limited to only Sunday. If they get discouraged, tell them the stories of these young men and women who took a stand and made a difference in their communities. And, if their religious freedom is denied, know that Alliance Defending Freedom will be there to protect you.
- Nothing inspires others like the stories of young people who stand for faith. Briefly share a story of a courageous young person you know that stood up for religious freedom at school on our Facebook page.
- Share this blog and encourage your friends and family to know the rights of students to freely share their faith at school.