Friday, May 13, 2005

Bibles in the Schools

*Sigh* Here we go again...

No rule against student Bibles (Knoxville News Sentinel - Registration Required)
"The scorn stemmed from a story posted on the Web site, which said Summa "barred students from reading the Bible during recess" and forbid Bibles at school.

That's not exactly true, Summa said Thursday. She said students can bring Bibles to school - in fact, she has one in her own office.

But the trickier question is: When can students read their Bibles?

The answer, according to the Knox County public school system's attorney, is, during "free time."

And free time does not necessarily include recess, said the attorney, Marty McCampbell.


Cindy Buttry, the Knox County school board member who represents Karns Elementary, said she supports the school's principal. But Buttry said she personally thinks students should be able to conduct Bible study during some parts of the school day.

"If it's not being led by an adult, if it's not something that is structured, in my opinion, I don't see a problem with it," said Buttry, who remembers reading her own Bible at school when she was in high school. "Lunch and recess, technically to me, they're on their own time."


"My feeling is, I want to be very respectful to the parents and children certainly," [Summa] said. "Elementary children are young, and my job is to protect them and keep them safe. I think having a Bible at school is fine." "
The question is raised again, should students be allowed to read their Bible at school?

It's a tough question to comment on for me, for two reasons:

First, my experience in grade school, here in Knoxville, was typical for a kid starting out in the 70's in this part of the country. Almost every kid went to a church (usually Baptist), and probably more if not all of the teachers did as well. The strong church/state separation rules regarding school prayer, etc had not yet trickled down to this level, so I'm pretty sure no one would've thought twice to bring a Bible to school. When I got into high school in the 80's we had a before-school Bible study I occasionally participated it, that may have been led by a teacher. All before-hours, and held in the choir room. Nobody thought twice about it.

Second, my kids now go to a private religious school here in town. There are classes in Christian Catechism, and they have chapel every day. Obviously, there is no controversy regarding bringing or reading a Bible at school - it's encouraged.

So you see I have no modern public school experience with kids or parents who are unchurched (as our church calls it). I've never met someone who was strongly opposed to this, as long as it didn't disrupt the school day. As usual, it seems teachers and principals today are pressured to abide by strict interpretation of policy (which, by extension, is really because of fear of lawsuits by angry secular parents or organizations against the local School Board). I doubt many Southern teachers would personally care one way or the other whether they see a student with a Bible in church as long as it's used at the proper time and doesn't interfere with schoolwork.

But from the Bible-reading advocates point of view, I'm getting the message that they believe kids ought to be able to read/study their Bibles (well, I would imagine some would push for them being able to pull out their Bibles in the middle of the science lesson, if they could get their way) during anytime they're not actually in the classroom doing classwork. Principal Summa feels that recess does not necessarily equal "free time" and doesn't give carte blanche for students to go do whatever they feel like. With so many children approaching and passing the obesity levels these days, a structured recess can be as important to a child as anything they learn in a classroom, so it very often needs to be regulated and controlled by the individual teachers and gym teachers, if they're part of the program.

So when do kids get "free time"?

School Board member Cindy Buttry, quoted above, recalls reading her Bible at lunch. I think lunch - especially in the upper grades, where reading the Bible on their would be more common - should be considered "free time". I don't think a teacher would have any business telling a student to put away any reading material (within reason) during lunch. It is certainly a break for kids in the middle of the day, to rest, eat, and recharge their batteries. If a kid wanted to read "Chicken Soup for the Angst-Ridden Teenager's Soul" at lunch, I'd say it would be ok.

But Buttry also believes recess is "free time". Here's a problem, because as a member of the School Board, she should know one way or the other way official school policy is regarding recess. Is it "free time" for the students to do whatever they wish? Is is structured, organized exercise and fresh air time for students, according to a School Board attorney? Once they get their answers straight in that regard, it would solve part of the problem.

So, should Bibles be banned from a school? No - that would certainly, in my opinion, violate our Freedom of Religion.

Should they be used whenever a child feels like getting up from their seat and going somewhere to read it? No, because school has a certain structure every parent must agree to have their child follow, according to the laws of the land.

Should a student be allowed to read the Bible, or participate in a study after or before school? Sure. I would even go out on my high-school-experience limb and say it wouldn't be any problem to hold such a study at the school, as long as a) other religious practices are also allowed to hold such study sessions, and b) it's determined that it's a better convenience to the students involved to hold it at school, rather than off campus. In other words, it shouldn't be held at the school because the students just want to protest something or make a statement.

Finally, should they be allowed to read and/or study their Bibles during school hours at "free time"? I think that's fine, too, as long as "free time" is well defined and not subject to arbitrary decisions by the principal or teachers. If recess is free time, then it should be clearly decided on.

See, make the simple, fair guidelines and require schools to follow the simple, fair guidelines and everyone's happy.

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