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Teacher to Parent - Students do not lose their religious freedoms when they walk into a public school

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Stallings

Q: My child’s school has started an FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) club. This is really scary and unconstitutional. Schools in the 21st century should be aware of the separation of church and state.

There’s a Robert Frost poem where the speaker gets upset about a bird twittering outside of his house. He claps his hands to shoo the bird away. Then he has a moment of reflection where he realizes the problem isn’t with the bird, but with himself. He says, “Of course there must be something wrong in wanting to silence any song.”

Students are citizens and they do not lose their religious freedoms simply because they walk into a public school. The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the rights of students to pray, proselytize and have Christian clubs in schools. The same goes for other religions. I won’t bother to cite specific cases. Google “student religious rights” and buckle in for the night.

I understand why you say it’s “scary.” We tend to be afraid of things we do not understand. However − as it happens to be the religion I adhere to − I can assure you that you have nothing to fear from a Christian club.

Like most religions, Christianity’s origin story is simple: God sent his son, Jesus Christ, to be born as a man, be crucified for mankind’s sins and conquer death with his resurrection. Jesus encouraged people to have faith in him, proclaiming, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

You needn’t fear that Christian students will be shaming or coercing their classmates into joining their club. The Christian Bible reveals that Jesus told his followers, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” In other words, he didn’t want people to become Christians through force. He wanted them to see the virtuous acts of his followers, acts that might inspire them to become followers, too.

Jesus had just two commandments for those followers. The first was to love God and the second was to “‘Love others as well as you love yourself.” Christians do differ with today’s culture on a number of issues, but the one quality that always reigns in Christianity is love. Our kids are growing up in a time of animus and division. An attitude of loving others should be welcomed relief, not something to fear.

In a YouTube-driven, “look at me” society, we all could use more humility, especially our kids. Jesus taught that “those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” In the Christian faith, humility is one of the highest virtues. Nothing scary about that.

Christians believe that while Jesus is no longer a man of flesh living on earth today, his spirit nevertheless lives on in the hearts of his believers, inspiring them with “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Is there anyone who thinks kids need fewer of those?

The number of children suffering today from depression, anxiety and suicide are at breathtaking highs. A recent survey by Channel Mum revealed that 60% of children routinely demonstrate feelings of worry, unease, or fear. Fourteen percent have openly considered suicide and children as young as seven are showing symptoms of anxiety.

It’s relevant then that the Christian Bible says, “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” Our children need security and stability to make it in this world. Christianity offers comfort to suffering students. Also, clubs like FCA can form a kind of added family that give kids confidence to overcome their anxieties.

Want more evidence? A 2016 study published in JAMA Psychiatry showed that subjects who participated in a religious service at least once weekly were five times less likely to commit suicide than those who didn’t. Other studies, including one by Pew Research in 2019, link being part of a religious community with possessing higher levels of happiness.

I became a Christian after my mother died in middle school. I was in dark despair. I had passed from a world of family security to one where nothing was certain. The Christian faith gave me the encouragement of knowing that even when things are totally out of my control − everything from my mother’s death to my own future − they are forever tightly within God’s.

If not for Jesus, I wouldn’t have made it through. In a state of self-imposed isolation, he became my best friend. He is still more real to me than anyone I have ever known.

Our students are hurting in ways we’ve never seen. You don’t have to be religious to realize that if any student can find sustaining hope in a religious school club, it is not a reason to fearfully shut them down. It is a reason to rejoice.

Virtue, love, humility and peace. Why would we want to prevent students from having access to these? Why would we want to stop children from practicing them in their schools?

Why would anyone want to silence such a song in a world of crescendoing cacophony?

Jody Stallings has been an award-winning teacher in Charleston since 1992 and is director of the Charleston Teacher Alliance. He is the recipient of the 2018 first place award in column writing from the South Carolina Press Association. To submit a question or receive notification of new columns, email him at JodyLStallings@gmail.com. Follow Teacher to Parent on Facebook at facebook.com/teachertoparent and on Twitter @stallings_jody.

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