Church v. School

Less than a year after the Supreme Court ruled prayer before high school football games unconstitutional, the court is again looking at religion and public schools.

James Pascual
Guardian

The question on Feb. 28 was whether religious groups, in this case the Good News Club, a national Christian organization for kids, should be allowed to meet on public school property.

Milford Central School in New York prevented the group from meeting on school grounds after school, stating “”It’s Sunday school on Tuesday. We can’t have that.”” The issue at hand is twofold, as it raises the question of free speech versus the separation of church and state.

It is important to note that allowing a group to meet in a classroom is different from endorsing or promoting all of that group’s views. It is unlikely that the educational system agrees with the view the Boy Scouts of America have concerning gays, yet the Boy Scouts continues to meet at public schools throughout the country. Instead, by allowing the Boy Scouts and other groups to meet in classrooms, schools send the message that for those students who wish to attend the meetings, there can be some moralistic value found in such organizations.

Students need their parents’ permission to attend a Good News Club meeting. This requirement acts as a safeguard against students having unwanted information pushed on them. The Good News Club does not recruit in Milford; it is simply seeking a convenient place to hold its meetings.

Accodrng to an article from MSNBC, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer stated that by preventing the group from meeting at school, the district superintendent is “”discriminating in free speech terms against religion.””

Discrimination is something that reputable groups and individuals use to deal with views or ideas that oppose their own. Milford may try to mask this discrimination with umbrella terms such as “”protection”” or “”equality,”” but at the crux of the matter, this is a simple case of a school trying to suppress views to which it does not want its students exposed. Schools should encourage students to seek out many points of view instead of suppressing exposure to new ideas.

Supreme Court justices must also struggle over what constitutes worship. Law prohibits school-sponsored religious worship of any kind. It also protects students who wish to worship, but requires that worship does not disrupt others or interfere with school activities.

The age of children involved must be considered. Stories and songs may be considered worship when college students or even high school kids are involved, but does a 6-year-old have the capacity to worship in the spiritual sense of the word? They hear a story about someone helping someone else and sing a song to remember it.

The hope is that children will remember the story well enough so that when faced with a situation in which they can either be thoughtful or cruel, the right choice is made.

In light of what has happened recently in Santee, Calif. and in other areas in the country, we should not be keeping such lessons from our children. Schools should actively support any group that tries to teach young people the difference between right and wrong.

The largest issue in this case is deciding which takes precedence — free speech or the separation of church and state. Both are protected by the Constitution, but one cannot be used against the other. Instead, in all instances where the two conflict, a solution that upholds the principles of free speech while maintaining the important distinction between the government and religion.

If the school prevents the group from meeting, it violates the protection of free speech. Any prevention of the meeting would be solely based on the views of the group and is discrimination based on a set of beliefs. The court must allow the Good News Club to meet, and any other religious group that wishes to meet. The school would be upholding the First Amendment while maintaining the separation of church and state. Allowing any and all groups to meet shows no preference or support for a particular religion.

The Good News Club group meets after school ends, so it does not interfere with any school activity, and it simply teaches students the moral values that Christianity holds. Allowing religious groups to meet after school does not violate the Constitution and in fact promotes positive moral instruction.

Unfortunately, throughout the debates over religion in public schools, principle has superseded reality. The reality here is that a small group wants to teach young students how to be kind to each other. It teaches them about selflessness and generosity, and it happens to do it with Christianity at its core. Only those interested will attend the meetings, as those who do not agree or do not care are not affected in any way.

It is sad that such a simple yet important service to our children must be inconvenienced as a result of legal maneuvering and political and social activism. These religious groups do not aim to hurt anyone, and the fact that their values are anchored in faith is no reason to exclude them from one of the most important and essential doctrines of freedom. These groups should be allowed to meet at public schools and teach our children that there is virtue in kindness.