By Finn Laursen
Is there any hope for our public schools?
As the battle for the minds of our children continues in our postmodern, “godless” culture, our schools have become a major battleground. Some in the Christian community, understandably, are even calling for a mass exodus from our “government schools.”
Is there any hope for reform or restoration of the nation’s public schools? Is abandoning our public schools the only hope for our youth?
Yes, and no.
Whereas home schooling and private Christian schools are excellent alternatives to public school education for many, for many others these alternatives are not practical or possible. So no, abandoning public schools cannot be the only hope.
And yes, there is hope for reform and restoration within our public schools. “With God, all things are possible.”
That hope is not based on any state or national reform movement. It is not based on No Child Left Behind.
The hope of our public schools is in Jesus Christ, and in professional educators who follow Him, model Him, and live out their faith in the workplace of their classrooms.
Our Forefathers had great foresight when they penned the Constitution. They realized that building a country could not happen without the help of the Lord and in the First Amendment they made sure that the government would not establish a religion nor prohibit the expression of religion.
At the Constitutional Convention Benjamin Franklin set the tone for the writing. He realized that they had been meeting to draft a guiding document for a new nation and had neglected seeking the Creator. After the following speech, overflowing with Biblical allusions, all future sessions were commenced with prayer.
“…I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth – that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probably that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that ‘except the Lord build the House, they labor in vain that build it.’ I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better, than the Builders of Babel…” Benjamin Franklin
As they penned the constitution they assured that future government agencies, like schools, would not control religion or silence the convictions of a religious people.
The First Amendment -United States Constitution “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereofâ€¦”
“…abridging the freedom of speech, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Free Exercise Clause
How would the First Amendment impact an elementary public school teacher?
The courts have equated teachers as arms of the government since they are supported by public dollars. Thus, a public school teacher cannot establish his or her religion in that classroom. In other words, the Christian educator cannot use their public position to force their beliefs on students.
However, the school cannot use its power to ban the free exercise of religion in the school. If a teacher of faith believes that their expression of religion includes communicating with their God, schools cannot prohibit such expression. Teachers can engage in personal prayer. In fact, every superintendent in the nation must annually sign an assurance document that they have no policies that inhibit constitutionally protected prayer.
Teachers can attend student or staff initiated prayer groups, Bible studies, or worship activities. If these are held during the workday, the teachers should not lead them, but are free to fully participate before and after the workday.
All elementary curriculums include some reference to religion and teachers are free to teach about religion and to even go beyond the basic required curriculum. Since they are public employees, they cannot lead religion devotionally, but can clearly teach about it.
If questioned about their faith by students, they can certainly answer honestly. The courts have clearly communicated the teachers do not lose their freedom of speech rights when entering the public school classroom.
Freedoms for Educators
– Personal Prayer
– Attend student/staff activities including prayer, Bible study and worship
– Lead after school GOOD NEWS CLUB
– Personal Expression
– Religion in Curriculum
Christian Educators Association International (CEAI) exists to help Christian educators understand and carry out their mission. Founded in 1953, CEAI is a membership professional association for Christian educators in both public and private schools, with most of its members serving in public schools. CEAI is the only national association specifically serving Christian educators in public schools. Its focus is to encourage, equip, and empower Christian educators to make a positive impact in the schools where they serve.
Many Christian educators rely on CEAI as their alternative to the National Education Association. CEAI provides resources such as magazines, newsletters, daily devotionals, and many other printed and digital resources from a Christian worldview. The association also provides professional liability insurance and legal support – the two services for which many Christian educators feel that they must join the NEA.
– Distribution of Material
– Discussion/School Assignment
– Access to space and media
– Religious garb
– Release time
– Objectionable lesson or activity release
Our public school elementary students have total freedom of religious expression in school since they are not government employees. Students can lead prayer, read or distribute Bibles or other religious material, openly discuss their faith publically or through assignments, be given the same access to facilities as others get for non-religious activities. In other words, school employees must be “blind to religion.” They cannot treat religious expression differently than non-religious expression.
Precisely because there are so many negative influences bombarding public school students today, CEAI considers our public schools a mission field ripe for harvest. Through public schools we have access to many who will never enter our churches.
Like no other time in history our children on bombarded nonstop with negative information. Media saturation has reached a level that our children starting in elementary school experience greater influence from outside the home than from within. They are exposed to a sexualization in our culture that has expanded to all areas and ages. Hard core pornography is just a point and click away with many of our children unintentionally being exposed to unimaginable perversions.
According to Barna Research, only four to six percent of school-age children self-identify as Christian. Christian educators interacting with young people daily can have a life- changing effect on those not having a personal relationship with our Lord and at the same time can be a powerful role model for Christian students on campus.
CEAI’s position in the schooling culture is straightforward and clear:
Their Vision is God’s Love and Truth transforming our schools.
Their Mission is To Encourage, Equip and Empower Educators according to Biblical Principles.
– Proclaim God’s Word as the source of wisdom and knowledge
– Portray teaching as a God given calling and ministry
– Promote educational excellence as an expression of Christian commitment
– Preserve our Judeo-Christian heritage and values through education
– Promote the legal rights of Christians in public schools
– Provide a forum on educational issues with a Christian world view
– Partner with churches, parachurch organizations, educational institutions and parents
– Provide resources and benefits for educators including professional liability insurance
Their Core Values:
– Biblical Knowledge
– Professional Excellence
For in-depth information about Christian Educators Association International, visitwww.ceai.org.
About the author: Since 2003, Finn Laursen has served as Executive Director of Christian Educators Association International. He came to the position after a 32-year career in Ohio public school education, during which time he served as teacher, counselor, assistant principal, principal and superintendent.
Religion in Public School’s Seminar
INCM is partnering with CEAI to bring The Religion in Public School’s Seminar. The seminar will include much of what was discussed in this article. It’s a chance to learn how a church might positively impact their local public school. For more information, contact Finn Laursen at 1-888-798-1124/440-250-9566 or [email protected].