There is an old arrangement in philosophical arguments, where an “In Principle” argument is followed by an “In Fact” argument. Recently, I discussed the principles of religious freedom in public schools, but now I want to address some points raised making accusations of about alleged attempts to favor one religion in the Grant county school system. I cannot argue what has really happened in these schools, I don’t work for the district, and my son is too little to attend school yet, but I can demonstrate that the accusations, at least in the form we have them today lack substance, and therefore unless facts can be marshaled, the complaint lacks merit.
Let’s start by clearly stating it is not the job of a Christian or an apologist to justify the practices of any public school; since this is a complaint it is the responsibility of the northern Kentucky freethinkers to demonstrate where specifically there is a meaningful violation of the law, or of constitutional principles. Thus, merely referencing a religious text because it is “religious” (such as a complaint about students reading a passage from Genesis relating to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah), is meaningless without more information than presented in the complaint. Is this merely one viewpoint on an issue presented in contrast with several others, is it some presentation of an alleged development within human thought, is it a literary question comparing the text to the style presented in some other text, or is it included in a discussion of the archeology of the region? Without more specific information, the charge must be dismissed as lacking sufficient evidence to even be considered. Similarly, a passing reference is made to an incident at some prior point in time, a book on evolution was said to be inappropriate by school authorities, the reason why the book is inappropriate is not stated, we are left to assume it was the subject matter (biological evolution), but such an assumption is not necessarily correct. Some books on “evolution” are actually books pushing religious naturalism, such as Richard Dawkins The Blind Watchmaker, older works are explicitly racist (including Darwin’s The Descent of Man), and some contain elements of a eugenicist agenda, which might very well be offensive to students who have relatives with disabilities, or are themselves disabled. Nor do we know why the student allegedly brought the book to school, which is a rather interesting question to ignore.
Additionally, the complaint focuses greatly on a youth pastor who also works in the school system as a physical education teacher, and presents the claims of the Church as proof that this man should not work at the school as a teacher. And yet, it is not uncommon for pastors, youth pastors, or others to have outside jobs (such personnel in Christian circles are commonly referred to as “tent-workers,” or “bi-vocational ministers.”) The question of whether this teacher is also a minister is irrelevant, (in fact, we could ask for the clarification of whether the freethinkers are suggesting that Christians in general should be discriminated against during the hiring practices, or just those involved in bi-vocational ministry). Unless, they can demonstrate that the teacher does not understand the distinctions between instructional periods and non-instructional periods, they do not have a case. They have not intimated that he is leading the students in prayer nor that he is preaching during class period. Similarly, they have complained that this same man and his wife are involved in the Association of Christian Athletes in the High School. And yet, it needs to be remembered, most organizations on high school campuses are required in many districts to have a faculty advisor of some sort. They have presented no indications that he has broken any rules of decorum or any laws simply by serving in such a capacity.
Additionally there were complaints about advertisements and newsletters. The latter provide no context to be useful at all. In one case, it was a picture of students praying at the flagpole. There has been no evidence presented that the school’s administration or faculty initiated this prayer session; otherwise a newsletter covering the event in a newsletter is simply an example of journalism showing interest in the student’s activities. Similarly complaints were leveled that a student was allowed to make a statement in the newsletter of that student’s own faith, but we don’t have any evidence of why this particular student was chosen. Was he elected by his peers? Was it because he had organized the campaign against heroin at the school, and chose to speak about his motivations? Was it drawn by name? Unless it is demonstrated that the school’s administration chose this student in order to present a pro-Christian message then the newsletter’s reference does not make a case for the freethinkers.
A display of Bible’s involving the heroin epidemic was also a part of the complaint, but again, we are left without sufficient context (the display of Bibles actually appears from the photographs to be more accurately Bible’s displayed along side other materials). We are not told who organized the display (students of faculty) what the other materials presented are, what the display of the Bible’s is intended to mean, etc. Without this context the complaint is meaningless.
Finally, two advertisements and a display of Bibles are noted, one is a basketball tournament at the Dry Ridge Baptist Church, and the second is a tutoring service by a Methodist church being advertised. Unless things have changed from my own high school days, it is not uncommon for schools to advertise community events, particularly those aimed at youth. Someone may have a case to argue this is unreasonable for the school to advertise the Baptist church’s basketball tournament if, and only if, it can be demonstrated that other groups were turned down under similar conditions, yet no one has suggested that a local mosque or synagogue has requested to advertise a sporting event and had their request denied. In fact, to advertise events at secular venues, but to deny advertisement at similar community events held at Churches would be explicit discrimination. The other point, was a Methodist church that offered a tutoring service to the students. Yet, the advertisement explicitly states that the school was not endorsing the church, and again, no evidence of discrimination against other tutoring services has been offered.
The case, as it has been presented on the Freethinkers own website is not a case at all. Without more evidence, facts, or additional information, Christians should watch this matter very closely, and consider whether the schools response should merit a lawsuit of discrimination on the grounds that said response would constitute discrimination against religious students.
To be clear, it is equally wrong under the constitution for the schools to take an antireligious stance as it is a proreligious stance, but describing the stances taken by various worldviews, including theistic ones, is not actually a violation of any principle. In fact, if only nontheistic worldviews are presented, then the school is advocating a position that God does not exist.
If this is the case, I strongly object to the presentation myself. Students should not be taught the chronological snobbery nor the myth of progress popular among many progressives and atheists; such constitutes a clear violation of the establishment clause. Nor should appeals to the methods of the religionsgeschichte schule, or its modern counterpart, mythicist interpretations on the Bible be presented in public schools, on the dual grounds that it would be teaching a specific approach to religion and it would be based in bad scholarship.
If this be the case, I would again object, since this may employ an approach to religious literature that does not maintain the required neutrality of a public school system. See the above note on mythacist interpretations of the Bible.
Again, based on the way the presentation is made, in this case it is the Christian and not the atheist that has the greater grounds for objection.
To be clear, I am not against such books being allowed on campus. My opinion is that they should be handled on the same grounds as Christian examples on the same topic; The Blind Watchmaker should be treated in the same manner as Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ.
My own experience in High School included a Christian Youth Club in my sophomore year, though I was a little conservative at the time for the group, and did not involve myself later in the group, to my own regret. The faculty advisor was also my algebra teacher, and I never would have known he were a Christian if he had not been involved with the club. He generally sat in the background, provided advise as needed or when asked, and let us do as we thought best.
This and the student picture and interview are both discussed in the complaint as related to discussions related to Northern Kentucky’s Heroin epidemic.