Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Rules Applied Equally?

Public schools often react in strange ways (it seems to me) about various forms of religious expression and accommodation during school or after hours on school property. They may be reacting to many of the cases that have been brought against schools because of the so-called "separation of church and state" (a metaphor used to describe an aspect of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution). That metaphor works well enough if you understand the Constitution, as Thomas Jefferson surely did when he penned the phrase in a letter. But without proper historic background, the same metaphor could lead one down the wrong path.

In any case, I would hope that schools would apply their rules and actions fairly and not just in one direction. But I ran across an interesting post on It starts this way:

"Suppose your child's school announces a Christmas celebration - and your child, while subscribing to your atheistic beliefs, decides to participate. So he goes, dressed as Santa Claus.

"Uh-uh, say school officials. This is Christmas. Take off the red suit, and come back when you can wear something shepherd-y.

"Care to guess how fast the American Civil Liberties Union could whip up a lawsuit on that one?"

In the made-up example above, the author (Michael Johnson) tries to describe a case close to one that is in process, but in the opposite direction. He tells of a 10-year-old student at Willow Hill Elementary School in Philadelphia, PA. This youngster, who is Christian, had some conflicts in common with many other Christians about the school's Halloween recognition. During this day's activities he needed to come dressed in an appropriate Halloween costume or be isolated from the rest of the student body. Most kids would not want that, so he came dressed as Jesus.

Seems like a good idea? Not to the school officials, who said this violated their (unwritten) "religion policy." Yet the officials allowed costumes that imply other types of religious implication, such as devils and witches.

The article is written by a conservative columnist and covers more than I have summarized here.

Read more here: Taking God Out Of School Leaves A Vacuum Something Will Replace, by Michael Johnson


CrypticLife said...

Public schools are staffed by personnel who simply do not know the law. Not just the law related to separation of church and state, either, but even things they should really know, such as confidentiality of academic records.

You're probably already aware I disagree with a lot of your take on the first amendment. Here, though, I absolutely agree with the columnist: the child should have been allowed to dress as Jesus. To stop him is a violation of the first amendment, and the ACLU *should* step in and file a lawsuit (though my guess is the ADF will fund the suit anyway).

Now, had it been a teacher, I would have agreed with preventing them from dressing as Jesus.

History Matters said...

crypticlife: No problem with disagreement when it is well expressed. There is a lot of material to debate!

I might ask you if you personally think the ACLU *would* take the case if asked. I agree they should. I used to be a member of the ACLU, but I opted out when I came to believe they were not being even handed.

To other readers: comments are always welcome. I will approve any comments that are polite and appropriate to the post, whether they agree or disagree with my point of view.