Christian rights on school grounds

There is currently an article on the WCPO news website complaining about Christian activity in public schools. Though I am a Baptist, I’m against religion being taught in public schools.   My grounds are that I do not trust the government to accurately present Christian thought, especially when taught by a non-Christian teacher.

Nevertheless, I firmly believe students have the right to organize and express their faith. Yes, on school grounds, which belong to the taxpayers. There are several important principles in play when it comes to Christian young people being allowed to pray around a flag-pole, organize a Bible club, or vocally express their faith on school grounds.

The immutability of rights

First, it must be acknowledged that the rights of American citizenship are present in the public as well as in the private sphere of life.   A student does not give up his first amendment rights when he walks onto public property; though, of course, he must obey the rules of decorum and good manners so as not to infringe on the rights of other students.

To argue that Christians must not honor the name of Jesus Christ or live as if Jesus and God are not the center of their existence is to maintain that the government has the authority to require Christians to commit hypocrisy. To use the language of our founders, it argues that government has the right to prohibit the free exercise of religion. Freedom of religion does not mean we have to limit religious thought or sentiment to Sunday services only, or to specific ritual duties; it also means we are free to live a righteous life.[1]


Secondarily, it is often argued that this is somehow “discriminatory” to non-Christian students. This is nonsense, as can be seen by a chess club. No one would argue that the existence of a chess club in an elementary school discriminates against children who do not play chess, nor is it somehow discriminatory if some children choose to play chess during their lunch period. Certainly, there is no reason for non-chess-playing students to feel “threatened” or “fearful.”   No one is harmed by Christians forming a Bible club, provided that non-Christian groups are given the same right to organize.

But, some will say, it is discriminatory that club officers must be Christians; again, this is analogous to other clubs. Spanish clubs do not discriminate against anyone when they require the president (or members) to be able to speak or read Spanish, nor is it discriminatory when the Chess club requires officers to be able to actually play chess. Such rules do not infringe on the rights of other students. In fact, in a sense, not allowing such basic rules can lead to true infringements or negations of rights. Suppose a group of students who prefer checkers infiltrates a chess club, elects one of their own as a president, and promptly rules that all meetings will henceforth play checkers instead of chess. This would not enhance the checkers players rights; they already had every right to form their own club and enjoy the same rights as the chess players, to play their preferred game during non-instructional periods. The only persons who would be affected are the chess players, who find that their own ability to enjoy their preferred game on campus has been diminished.

Similarly, Christian clubs who require officers to uphold some form of the Christian faith are not discriminating against anyone else, since Muslims, Hindus and atheists have the same rights to organize clubs based on their beliefs. Alterations to these principles would merely diminish the rights of each to espouse his beliefs on campus.

Separation of Church and State

Finally, and perhaps most tellingly, the argument most often raised ultimately should be understood to backfire against the opponents of Bible clubs. There is a long standing debate on the first amendment and the separation of church and State, but rather than going into the history of the first amendment, we need to note if there is a separation of Church and State, that is no reason to forbid Bible clubs.

Schools are already necessarily engaged peripherally in religion, and therefore it is the State, not the Church, that should be removed from campus if we hold to a hardened, immutable separation. It is impossible for a school — public or private — to form any curriculum without being affected, intentionally or unintentionally, by religious beliefs.[2] As various scholars of worldview now admit, our view of the world influences not only our understanding of what is true, but also our rules and our means of judging how we know something to be true.

Therefore, if we Americans are to take the first amendment as an absolute separation of Church and state, then I would argue that it is the state, and not the church, that has no proper role in the education of children; and it is the atheist, and not the Christian who is ultimately violating the principle. Atheists have long sought to use the public schools as a point to indoctrinate others into their worldview, as is explicitly admitted in the original humanist manifesto, authored by Thomas Dewey (a major influence on the modern educational establishment).

This should be understood as explicit religious indoctrination done at state expense; it has been done by using of modern myths, such as the false belief that medieval Christians believed the Earth was flat. The atheists are effectively creating a state secularist religion, something that is itself a violation of the separation principle.

This being the case, there are no principled grounds for expelling Christian demonstrations in the public square.




            [1] It could be objected that children, as minors, do not have the full development of their rights, and this is true as far as it goes. (After all, we don’t allow elementary aged children to apply for concealed carry permits.) But that argument doesn’t show any reason to forbid Christians from organizing a Bible club on school grounds if it’s outside of classroom hours. It is the parents, not the government, who are the proper guardians of a child’s rights. Thus, such an argument is functionally limited to suggesting children should have parents sign a permission slip to join a Bible club, not to argue children cannot have one.

[2]Examples include:

  • Any discussion of the history of the United States or Europe must of course address Christianity, and however these questions are to be answered, the teachers, textbook writers, and planners of curriculum presentation of western history will be influenced by whether they think Christianity is true, or false. Similarly, the study of the history of the Middle East will be conditioned on one’s understanding of Islam.
  • The choice of, and commentary about, literature in English classes will similarly be explicitly affected by the teacher’s understanding of Christianity and other religions. How, for example, can Shakespeare be discussed without mentioning the English Bible, and what are we to do with Milton’s paradise lost, which openly states it is a theodicy?
  • To be learned, one must wrestle with the question of whether man is basically good (but does some evil things because of some outside element entering his life), basically evil (as Christians would assert), or some assertion that denies the viability of the distinction. The answer to this question (and many other questions of religious ethics and epistemology) has massive ramifications for conclusions involving the study of psychology, sociology, anthropology, law, ethics, etc.
  • While many focus on the question of evolution in public schools in terms of religion versus science, in many senses, both sides are appealing to religious belief (religion in an academic sense is a study of various questions, including the existence of God or gods. To argue there is no God is therefore an explicit statement of religious belief). One of the very basic distinctions between atheistic evolutionists and Christians (whether they are old earth creationists, young earth creationists or theistic evolutionists) is not about the data involved in the discussion, but about the premises their religious beliefs and the way these premises impact their interpretation of the data. There are similar issues with many other scientific studies.