Reading this letter to the editor of a Mississippi newspaper makes me both hopeful and sad. Hopeful because a freshman in high school had the courage and the eloquence to write the letter, which exposes clearly unconstitutional proselytizing by his school administration; sad because I know without a doubt that this brave young man will now be the target of harassment, intimidation and quite possibly death threats and violence.
How do I know that? Because every other person who has stood up like this has had to face those things, from the Gobitis family in the 40s to Ellery Schempp in the 60s to the plaintiffs in Dover in 2005. Every plaintiff that I know of in every major church/state dispute in the last 70 years has been targeted in that manner; I doubt this young man will be any different. One can only hope that school and local officials will do their job and protect him, but in light of the fact that he is exposing their illegal behavior, I’m not holding my breath. Below the fold, the text of the letter:
I am a freshman at Greene County High School, and I am writing to express my concerns on several assemblies that we have had this year.
It is understood that we live in a region of the country called the “Bible Belt,” and in this region Christianity does play a significant role in the lives and the views of many people. I not only understand this, but I also respect it.
This school year we have had three assemblies where the speaker was a religious figure. The first person was a local preacher. During this assembly he preached to us on the importance of making the right choices and accepting Jesus as our savior.
The next person was a biker-turned-preacher from the Gulf Coast. His program was focused on making the right choices. He didn’t preach to us, but he did mention that turning to Christianity helped him turn his life around.
The other speaker was a preacher from Louisiana. He preached on the importance of living in a Christ-like manner.
These assemblies were all concluded in prayer. We were never given the option to not attend.
I respect all of these people and their commitment to the Christian religion just as much as I respect the Constitution and rights given to us by this document. This time, however, the two are at odds with each other.
The Establishment Clause of the Constitution has been interpreted in many court cases as a wall of separation between church and state.
Moreover, it states clearly in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 that no school official shall mandate or organize religious ceremonies.
I have no problem with the assemblies themselves, but public schools are not the place to preach a religion. The Constitution is the reason that this country hasn’t crumbled into a chaotic state.
Now is not the time to overlook this important document. These assemblies, no matter how good of a message they bear, are still technically illegal.
Well said, young man. Well said.