FROM small beginnings, great controversies can grow. In the Spencer Daily Reporter of Spencer, Iowa, we read: Spencer to tackle religion in the public schools. Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:
Is there a place for religious expression in public schools? Should history be taught to students via the Bible and texts dealing with Darwinism in a public school district’s classrooms? Spencer school board members, with hoped-for input from members of the public, are planning to address issues such as these with a draft religious liberty policy currently under consideration.
Your Curmudgeon humbly suggests that the first place the school board should look for guidance is the Constitution of their state, which can be found here, and which states:
Article I, Bill of Rights, Section 3, Religion: The general assembly shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; nor shall any person be compelled to attend any place of worship, pay tithes, taxes, or other rates for building or repairing places of worship, or the maintenance of any minister, or ministry.
And Article IX, Education, School Funds and School Lands, Section 1 says:
The educational and school funds and lands shall be under the control and management of the general assembly of this state.
That should be instructive. But what does the school board think? Let’s read some more from the Spencer Daily Reporter:
Barb Van Wyk and David Schlichtemeier crafted the policy — which also recognizes the Constitution’s “free practice” clause — and placed it before their peers this week.
The Spencer board discussion was spurred by a keynote address delivered by Charles Haynes at the 2007 Iowa Association of School Boards conference held in Des Moines.
With Hayne’s guide and the “Darwin’s Black Box” book by Michael Behe in hand, and a handful of community members’ insights, Van Wyk and Schlichtemeier drafted the policy presented Tuesday night.
“Currently, we don’t have anything in place (within the Spencer school district),” Van Wyk said. “So, what ends up happening is both staff and students end up checking their faith at the door because everybody’s afraid to say anything at all. Nobody wants to get in trouble. But that’s not what our founding fathers intended either. So, we want to put it out there in a clear way that we don’t expect students to check their faith at the door.“
We’re not certain, but this little school board may be getting into difficulties for which they’re not prepared. Here’s more:
In its purpose and philosophy section, the policy lists that the school wouldn’t discriminate against private religious expression. It also would educate about, but not indoctrinate, religious faith. In addition, district representatives would promote dialogue between schools and the community concerning faith, as well as create a climate of academic freedom concerning faith issues. Students and employees would also be allowed religious expression within the law. And, the school would neither promote or disparage religious faith.
Trying to have it both ways? It’s not easy. Moving along:
The policy offered by Van Wyk, a pastor who is currently working with her family to serve as full-time missionaries in Africa, and Schlichtemeier, a Spencer pharmacist, defines religion and evolution. It also states that the school shouldn’t forbid expression solely because of religious content.
Great. A preacher and a pharmacist are defining religion and evolution. Another excerpt:
In regard to the potential distribution of religious materials on Spencer’s school grounds, the draft policy asserts that such materials couldn’t be singled out for specific regulation based on their content and that students may distribute such at “reasonable times and manners as designated by the school.”
Okay, that’s enough to give you the general idea. This is how these things always begin. Well-intentioned people, with what we suspect may be insufficient understanding of what they’re getting into, are going to generate some unanticipated controversy.
This should be fun. Stay tuned to this blog.
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