Several years ago, the public school system I matriculated through as a child was alleged to be permitting a wide array of Christian religious activities during the school day in violation of the establishment clause (separation of religion and government) in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. When I read the official brief of charges the ACLU had filed against the county school system, my jaw dropped in amazement. From the text of this brief, it appeared that the Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals had been working hard, as they always are, to penetrate yet another southern public school system—and had succeeded. Apparently, from the allegations, they had convinced some school administrators and teachers to cooperate with them in pushing their unique fundie view of the gospel into the heads of the students in the county schools.
In particular, it was alleged that a youth minister at a local Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) megachurch was being allowed to enter a school cafeteria on certain days of the week to make the rounds of the tables and pal around with the kids who were eating lunch. If any of you know anything about Baptist youth pastors, building relationships is the first step in building trust towards the moment when they can start proselytizing kids with their unique religious point of view, regardless of whether your child is already a member of some other church, a synagogue, a nonChristian religion, or no religion at all. Clearly, the county school system had gotten itself into deep trouble as such school systems often do in this country at the hands of fundie zealots who have no respect for the First Amendment or the already-held religious beliefs of the school children and their parents.
Nothing upsets me more than a bunch of fiery-eyed fundies intentionally breaking American laws while simultaneously trying to take advantage of young and impressionable school children in a sequestered environment where their parents cannot be present each day to monitor the sorts of illegal religious pressures being placed on their children. Therefore, I decided to write a detailed letter of concern and objection about these alleged activities to the newly hired Superintendent of Schools who had just moved in from another state.
It was a powerful letter and apparently one that was taken very seriously because the issue was eventually resolved in the manner this letter recommended. Certain people have hailed this letter as the best of its kind ever written, and at least one person has asked permission to use its text as a model for dealing with their own public school officials and the Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals who are trying to breach the schoolhouse doors and get to their children. The full text of this letter (edited for clarification and to remove real names, places, and dates) is shown below. I hereby grant concerned parents and parental groups who are NOT Christian fundamentalists or conservative evangelicals permission to use the verbatim text of the letter below, either in whole or in part, as a model for writing your own letter to your public school system when it has been or is being breached by Christian fundamentalist or conservative evangelical zealots.
This letter is my private religious property and intellectual property, and it reflects my own religious beliefs, which are in many ways contrary to those of Christian fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism. Christian fundamentalists, conservative evangelicals, and/or their representatives DO NOT have my permission to use the below letter or any portion of it for any purpose whatsoever―not even for brief quotation purposes. Any such use by these parties is considered to be plagiarism and copyright infringement.
August 23, 2015
Dr. John G. Doe
Thomas County Board of Education
695 East Johnson Street
Heborn, KY 41102
Dear Dr. Doe:
Welcome to Heborn and Thomas County. Because you are new to our area, you would not be expected to know me. However, I will tell you this. My family goes back more than 200 years in Thomas County, and we are one of the most famous and genealogically well documented families in the county. After growing up in Heborn and graduating from Heborn Senior High School in 1971, I went off to college at Murray State University for two years and then on to The University of Kentucky (Lexington) for an undergraduate degree with highest honors (3.89 GPA) and a graduate degree (3.96 GPA). For the past 27 years, I have worked as a scientist in Falcon Head, Kentucky. We live in Falcon Head now, and our family is active in Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church, the second largest United Methodist congregation in Falcon Head. I credit the Thomas County Schools with preparing me for academic success in college. However, I am very concerned about an article I read recently in my local newspaper. It said the Kentucky ACLU had filed a lawsuit against the Thomas County Schools for violation of the rights of eight students with regard to the establishment clause in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In addition, I read the specific charges leveled against the school system in the actual legal brief filed with the U.S. District Court. As an alumnus of the Thomas County Schools, I would like to offer some comments on this suit. I realize you cannot respond to this message for legal reasons, but I would like for you to read my comments carefully and take them seriously.
The First Amendment states the following:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The Thomas County Board of Education, Superintendent of Schools, other school administrators, and teachers are paid government officials. If the religious activities alleged by the ACLU actually took place in some of your schools, it is clear to me that the teachers and administrators who allowed it and/or encouraged it were attempting to establish one particular religious viewpoint as the official religion of the Thomas County Schools. In my opinion, this is clearly and unequivocally a violation of the First Amendment rights of the students and parents who asked the ACLU to file this suit. In addition, it was a slap in the face of every student, parent, and taxpayer in Thomas County who does not hold precisely to the particular religious viewpoint or conviction that was being taught via these activities.
Why is it important to avoid such activities in our public schools? In the 13 British colonies that existed prior to 1776, colonial history clearly records the fact that government-based church officials killed, tortured, and otherwise persecuted their fellow Christians because of differing religious beliefs. This sad but true history was heavily on the mind of Thomas Jefferson when he was on diplomatic post in Paris, France. Knowing the first constitutional convention had just met in Philadelphia in 1787 and written a constitution without a Bill of Rights, he wrote to the framers of the constitution and asked them to consider adding 10 more amendments to the new constitution to specify the rights of the American people. Historical records make it clear that the framers of the constitution wrote the First Amendment specifically to establish a wall to separate government from religion in the United States. The American government was to be totally neutral with regard to religion, neither officially supporting it nor opposing it. In other words, government was going to stay out of the religion business and let religion be a matter left solely to the American people, their families, and the houses of worship they establish and support voluntarily with their contributions.
How many times do we hear it in other contexts today? We hear it from Republican conservatives all of the time. I bet you know the words by heart: “I want the government to keep its nose out of my private business!” These alleged activities in your school system were nothing less than an official attempt to inject the nose of Thomas County government into the private religious business of the students, parents, and religious institutions of Thomas County.
I am a believing Christian who has accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, followed by a full-dunk baptism. I walk with him daily, and He walks daily with me. However, I am also a strong supporter of the separation of religion and government, as were the Baptists in this country for several hundred years prior to 1979. In this day and time, more so than at any other time in American history, I believe it is important to keep government separated from religion—and more especially to prevent government from promoting or otherwise supporting one particular religious viewpoint over other religious viewpoints.
As a parent, you have most likely never paid a surprise visit to a large and well-respected private preschool program where a teacher from India was teaching her pupils the tenets of the Hindu religion without your knowledge. Much to my surprise, I did make such a visit one day when my son was a regular member of her class, and I was disturbed by what I encountered. Our country has many more immigrant families now than ever before. If we drop the wall that separates religion and government in this country, there will be absolutely nothing left to legally prevent this sort of unwanted religious intrusion in our public schools. There will be nothing left to protect Christians, members of other religions, or people with no religion. In recent months, we have heard a lot in Kentucky about the dangers of Sharia Law and missionary Islam coming to our shores. I feel that most of this has been misplaced public hysteria. However, mark my word Dr. Doe, if you and others lower the First Amendment wall that separates religion and government in this country, you will pave a golden road from missionary Islam to the captive ears of your children in the public schools, and there will be absolutely nothing you can do about it because the only real legal protection you ever had will be gone.
Many Christian denominations in this country are ideologically and doctrinally further apart now than they have ever been in American history. This is particularly true with regard to the mainline Christian denominations, Christian fundamentalist denominations, conservative evangelical denominations, and pentecostal denominations. For example, many pentecostal churches believe women should serve as pastors in their churches. Conservative Southern Baptist churches are roundly opposed to it. Christian fundamentalist churches believe in a literal translation of the Bible, and they also believe the 1611 authorized King James Version is the only true Bible acceptable to God. The United Methodist Church strongly disagrees with these two positions. I wish these were the only examples of theological differences, but there are many others. Moreover, in recent years, these differences have been greatly accentuated by the fusion of hotly contested and highly polarizing political passions in some sectors of the Christian faith. Fifty years ago, if you had a religious difference with a neighbor, it was merely a live and let live difference. Today that same difference often counts a person as being an “Enemy of God.” And we all know about that from European history and the history of many other nations around the world: “The enemies of God must be destroyed.” Religion in the public schools might have worked, however illegally, in the years prior to 1963. In my opinion, the theological differences and the associated political passions are now too intense for that to ever be possible again. At best, it is a recipe for perpetual social conflict. At worst, it is a recipe for a shooting religious civil war like the one just concluded in Northern Ireland.
Bringing this down to the personal level, I really do not want a Southern Baptist public school teacher pumping the tenets of her particular brand of Christianity into the heads of my United Methodist children in science or history class. If a pastor from a conservative evangelical church wants to come into the school cafeteria and proselytize my children over a chili dog, I would really prefer to have the school principal stop him at the front door and keep him away from my children. His mere presence there is saying, in effect: “The religious teachings your kids are getting down at your church are wrong, and I am here in your school today to correct some of that.” In all honesty, what gives you or any other school administrator/teacher the right to interfere in this way with the religious education my children get down at our church? Government schools need to get their noses out of the religious business of parents, families, and churches because they do not belong there. The First Amendment exists to protect all of us from such unwanted intrusions by school officials and religious zealots.
We are seeing these unwanted intrusions into our public schools for a reason, and it is not just to save our children from the infernal regions. Christian fundamentalist churches and some conservative evangelical churches in this country are dying a slow death. In recent years, for the first time in history, baptism statistics have been down in the Southern Baptist Convention. According to a recent statistic put out by a Christian fundamentalist group, 88 percent of the children raised in their churches leave the belief systems of their youth at age 18 and never come back to them for the rest of their lives. Many of these churches are becoming unpopular with the public. Scientific surveys show that people are repelled by the traditions and doctrines in these churches. In fact, a friend of mine, a former Southern Baptist pastor in Oklahoma, tells me that such highly conservative churches have begun disguising themselves in hopes of acquiring new members by stealth. In 1965, they would have called themselves the Separate Missionary Baptist Church, a dead giveaway to the “bad news” gospel that waits inside. Today they have taken on cunning names such as Faith Assurance Church to lure in people that might otherwise avoid them.
Back in the 1980s, I was a member of a large, conservative Southern Baptist Convention church here in Falcon Head. I would go door-to-door with a friend of mine on Wednesday night. Some people would talk with us, but others would just slam their doors in our faces, and a few actually cussed at us from their doorways as we walked up the street. Clearly, we had a message people did not want to hear, but it was not the gospel message of Jesus Christ they were rejecting. After all, if you will remember, great multitudes were attracted magnetically to Jesus and his words—and many people followed him wherever he went. No multitudes followed us—in fact—no one followed us. After an honest personal evaluation and a lot of deep library research, I finally concluded that these people were actually rejecting the traditional, “man-made” church culture of Christian fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism—not Jesus and his message of love and hope.
As an acquaintance of mine at a Christian college program in Oregon has said, many of these churches and their members feel as if they themselves are about to be aborted in the course of American life. They feel weak and marginalized. They feel as if the things they value are no longer appreciated or valued in American society at large—and that these conservative values are being eroded with each passing day. They perhaps wonder why the Holy Spirit has allowed this ever-increasing marginalization to occur. With nowhere else to turn, they have tried desperately to grab political power and fuse their religious beliefs with government at all levels in hopes that the worldly power and authority of government institutions might take over (where the Holy Spirit had failed them) and be used to promote their beliefs and set them back on the high 1800s religious pedestal from which they fell so long ago.
Moreover, many in their ranks hope to eventually use the authority and police power of government to impose their dominion on the lesser human members of God’s creation who have committed the abominable sin of disagreeing with their narrow-minded theology and politics. Many of them, referred to formally as Christian Reconstructionists or Dominionists, are actively seeking to overthrow the U.S. Constitution and our American form of government, just as the Soviet communists tried to do during The Cold War. In opposition to the truth held by most American academic historians, they have invented a classic “BIG LIE” mythology that the United States was founded officially as a “Christian Nation.” They are using this big lie as the basis for eventually establishing a religious dictatorship to rule our country with an iron hand, just as the Islamic mullahs do in Iran. On the surface, I know this sounds like a nonsensical conspiracy theory, but it is not. The principles and plans of the Christian Reconstructionist movement are clearly set forth in the prolific writings of their most famous leaders, such as Dr. Rousas Rushdoony, a now deceased Calvinist minister who once attended the School of Divinity at Princeton University. Most Christians and public school officials do not realize this, but Christian Reconstructionists now have a deep influence on the Christian homeschool movement and the educational materials they provide to teaching parents. Christian Reconstructionism, Dominion Theology, and Theonomy are not Christian. In fact, they are heresies against the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and their ideas and influences should be rejected by all Christians. If you see anyone in the universal church using the term “Christian Nation,” you are listening to a person who is either a committed Christian Reconstructionist or someone who has fallen into the ideological snare of this heresy unawares.
With so much at stake, many Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical churches need children to replenish their ranks, and they see an alliance with public school administrators and teachers as a way to achieve some measure of security and promote their religious traditions. After all, a captive child in a public school classroom cannot slam the door in their face. Better still, mom and dad cannot be there at school each day to see what these so-called “religious ambassadors” are doing with their children—what religious ideas they are pumping into their heads while mommy and daddy are not looking. But you have to remember that this is not entirely about the children. In the end, it is really about these religious ambassadors using a government institution and our children as tools to save a floundering religious tradition that is in trouble and desperate to assure its safety and continued existence. I think wise old Benjamin Franklin said it best in the following quotation:
When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obliged to call for help of the civil power, ‘tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.
—Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to Richard Price. October 9, 1790.
Dr. Doe, the Thomas County Schools are going to lose this federal court case brought by the ACLU. There is no doubt whatsoever about it. If you go to any privately practicing attorney in Thomas County, they will tell you this straight up. This case is no different from numerous others just like it that have ended in disaster for other public school systems around the nation. In the end, it will cost the taxpayers of Thomas County about $1.2 million of hard-earned money that could have been spent on educating their children. That kind of waste is unconscionable in these still hard economic times.
The Thomas County Schools are not a church, the sinks in your science laboratories are not baptismal fonts, and their mission is not to save a desperate, scared, and dying Christian fundamentalist or conservative evangelical religious tradition. Therefore, I would urge you and the Thomas County Schools to settle this suit out of court for a low dollar figure while you still can and cease from the alleged school religious activities that led to this suit.
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