Do your children know that God has put us here to do a job? "That job is to tell others about Jesus and how he died for our sins." The Supreme Court recently ruled that a school in upstate New York can’t prevent the Good News Club, a Bible group for children aged 6 to 12, from holding after-school meetings. Despite the fact that it puts me on the same side as George Will, I agree with this decision. (First, a note about Will; compare the sanitized "A Big Family" story — a Bible story with nary a mention of God — he cites. Note his dismissive comment that "Zachary’s teacher banned it, saying it amounted to devotional reading of the Bible and ‘might influence’ other children." Now, read the lesson plan excerpt quoted in the 1998 federal court ruling on this case:
If you have believed on the Lord Jesus, trusting Him to save you, will you remember this week that God’s best for you is to give Him first place in your life? When you are tempted to allow other things to take over that special place, will you stop and think about all God has done for you? … Don’t be foolish like the people of Israel, but understand that God’s will for you is that you be a person after His own heart, giving Him first place in your life. If you have been allowing other things to have first place, confess that sin to God. Ask Him to help you keep Him first.
I have a slip of paper with a number one printed on it that says, "Keep God first this week!" You could put this paper on your mirror, by your bed or on your locker door at school. Let it be a reminder to you all week long to give God first place in your life.
I will speak no further to Mr. Will’s intellectual honesty. This week, at least.)
I agree with the Post‘s editorial suggesting that it’s possible that six-year-olds aren’t able to distinguish between an activity taking place immediately after school and an official school activity. But the basis of the case — that the Good News Club amounts to proselytizing, even if it’s true (which I think it is) — doesn’t seem to amount to a legitimate reason to discriminate against the club. Would Bible stories scrupulously selected to avoid references to God be acceptable? What about inspirational stories about the lives of prominent Christians? This sort of fine parsing is one of the reasons the wall between church and state exists — the state has no business telling religious groups how to conduct their business. (Older students often have a number of religious groups available to them; in the DC area, a wide variety of faiths and denominations are represented. Would, say, Buddhist groups be exempt because they don’t mention God?) And as the Supreme Court has previously ruled that religious groups have a right to use school property on the same basis as secular groups, the ruling falls neatly into place.
That said, I think if there’s any legitimate doubt in the educators’ minds about whether young children will be able to distinguish between school events and after-school events run by outsiders, there is an obvious solution. Don’t allow any events immediately after school. Enforce a 15-minute break between the end-of-day bell and the start of after-school clubs. Further, make children get their parents’ approval before participating. And hold every outside group that wants to run a club to this standard.
You should not — to the best of my knowledge, legally cannot — distinguish between student activities based upon their content. There are exceptions, most obviously based on behavior — the Grover Cleveland Junior High Stink Bomb and M-80 Club isn’t going to fly — but when I last looked into this (which was 1995 or so, so take what I say with a large grain of salt), schools weren’t permitted to filter these sorts of extracurricular activities based on their beliefs. Schools in Utah tried this, and they were wrong, wrong, wrong. A blanket ban on all extracurricular clubs to prevent one you dislike from meeting is no good, but allowing those clubs you approve of to meet then banning others on a whim is even worse. Of course, that’s effectively what happened with the Senate threating to yank funding from schools which don’t let the Boy Scouts meet. The Boy Scouts, let us recall, are not a school group like a chess club. They are representatives of a national organization which does not allow gay members. (Unlike the Girl Scouts, who don’t care about your sexual orientation as long as you can shill for their cookies.) Many schools have rules about allowing discriminatory outside groups from meeting within their walls. As with so many things, actual principles (local control of schools) have been blithely sacrificed in favor of making a cheap partisan point — one which I think has been neatly parried by an expanded demand that the rule apply to banning any group from meeting due to its position on homosexuality. That would include both the Scouts and the Gay/Straight Alliances of the world. I expect that to die quietly in the House; fairness isn’t a virtue to politicians when it addresses discrimination that their constituents support.