Who would have ever thought that when parents in America say goodbye to their sons and daughters who ride the school bus or walk to school, that it might be the last time they will ever see them? The consistent carnage of school shootings have left parents, educators and students all wondering the same thing – will our school be next and who, in our school, has the potential to “blow” – taking down others with them on their quest for revenge, notoriety, or whatever other motive they may have.
Many are calling for stricter gun laws, yet the controversy over what and how to do this drowns out any meaningful discussion. Others are pointing to greater mental health awareness and the need for a national conversation regarding depression, abandonment, fear, anxiety, and the lack of hope in our culture. This, too, needs serious attention and honest appraisal as very few are willing to address this elephant in the room.
And then there is the discussion (or should I say lack thereof?) about God. Did you know that many young people in America have almost no knowledge or understanding of God, or the Bible, or the religious freedoms they are supposed to enjoy? Even worse than that, most young people view Christians as bigoted, self-righteous zealots who don’t know or care about the realities of our modern culture and who want to return to the days of corporate prayer in public schools.
Really? Whose prayers? Muslims, Jews, Christians, or the hundreds of other faith cultures that permeate our society?
There are good reasons why educators are limited in their roles to promote or endorse religion and lead prayers in classrooms. Can anyone say ‘coercion,’ something that God does not employ or endorse.
But does that mean that the discussion of God and all that He is and all that He has to offer all people (unconditional love, peace, understanding, patience, hope, healing and help for broken hearts and lives) needs to be locked out of our school systems? If only we could lock out the guns and the violence and the hate and hopelessness in our country as effectively as we have locked out God in our schools, but we can’t.
Therefore we must have a honest discussion of where we, as a nation, stand on allowing God back into the lives of our young people.
Did you know?
“In 1984, Congress passed the Equal Access Act, which forbids schools from discriminating against clubs or denying them equal access to school facilities because of their philosophical or religious viewpoints. The act was passed largely to prevent widespread discrimination against religious clubs.
“In 1990, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Westside Community Board of Education v. Mergens that the Equal Access Act was CONSTITUTIONAL. In that case, the Court determined that a school district violated the Equal Access Act by denying use of its facilities to a religious club, while allowing chess club, a scuba-diving club and other ‘non-curriculum-related’ groups to use school facilities,” Clubs, by David L Hudson, Jr. First Amendment Scholar, and Mahad Ghani, First Amendment Center Fellow.
Yet, most schools still believe that there is a “separation of church and state” and that clubs with a faith component are not allowed to take place in public schools. They point to the First Amendment and repeat the mantra that began in the 1960s that by allowing a faith-based club, the school is ‘endorsing religion,’ violating the First Amendment and opening its doors to lawsuits.
Religion, I hate to say, has become the one thing that will not be tolerated in schools. These same schools promote harmony and acceptance of all lifestyles and all ethnicities but refuse to allow any club that mentions or (heaven forbid!) promotes God as an answer to the suffering and abuse in the world and in many of the students’ lives.
The key to legal acceptance of the faith-based clubs is that they MUST be student-led and driven. If that is the case, then the groups MUST be afforded, under the law, the same exact rights of each and every other club in the school – and that includes having guest speakers; allowing adults who volunteer (on a limited basis) to help guide and facilitate the meetings (service and leadership clubs guided by adults are a perfect example of what can and should be allowed for faith-based clubs); use of the PA system to announce club meetings; flyers with information about the club to be posted throughout the schools at approved locations; and faculty advisers who are present during the clubs and whose rooms are made available for the clubs to meet.
But most administrators either don’t know or don’t care about the federal law. They may say that they allow students to pray together or have Bible study, but when it comes to allowing a faith-based club actual status as a club within the school, they draw the line and say ‘no’. They say to the students, “If you want a Bible study or faith-based club, then you must meet after school and pay for the facilities.” Or, perhaps, “You can meet during the lunch hours with a faculty adviser, but don’t expect us to approve a formal club.”
As student suicides and mass murders continue, we all cry and wonder if it will ever end, knowing that today’s news cycle will probably bring another shock to our already broken down nervous system. And we call for prayers (too little, too late) and vigils and walkouts and sit-ins, in an attempt to calm our fears and show respect.
But what if we put God and hope and faith and love and understanding and virtue back in the halls of our sacred learning? What if we allowed young people to discuss their hurts and sorrows, their tears and torments, their need for acceptance and love, in a safe and unbiased environment, and they were embraced and encouraged to do so? What if our schools led the way, by example, for the students to talk about God rather than blocking their legal right to do so?
This is my prayer, my plea, my cry for help for this generation in desperate need of … love … and God.