Recently, our local school board revealed a new policy regarding our schools and religion. The policy is 14 pages long and includes many things that are laborious and difficult to understand. However, buried within the policy are statements that could forever change the way churches and schools in McDowell County work with one another. The policy is being developed–it has not been finalized.
I will include pertinent excerpts from the policy to explain why I am deeply grieved:
- Coaches will no longer be able to pray with their players.
8.2.d Coaches and other school employees may not lead prayer at either practices or games or other extracurricular school activities.
8.2.e Students may gather for prayers before, during, or after a practice or game, or before, during, or after a rehearsal or performance, so long as the prayers are student-initiated and student-led with no support, encouragement, or participation from school employees and as long as students do not pressure other students to participate. Coaches and other school employees may be present at the prayer.
- Outside organizations, including the YMCA, Lunch Bunch, and Project Christmas will not be able to send information home with children who need their services.
9.4.d Flyers providing informational material and announcements from the following non-school groups may be distributed by placement in student take-home-folders. School officials are prohibited from assessing the viewpoint expressed in the flyer and deciding to exclude distribution of the flyer based upon its viewpoint; distribution of flyers pursuant to this policy section shall not discriminate based on viewpoint. This policy requires school officials to exercise viewpoint neutrality.
9.4.d.1 Parent-Teacher Organization
9.4.d.2 Government departments and agencies
9.4.d.3 Licensed day care operations on school campuses
9.4.d.4 Nonprofit organized youth sports leagues
- Youth ministers will not be able to regularly attend FCA meetings held at junior high and high school campuses.
10.2.b Outsiders (non-school officials) may not direct, conduct, control, or regularly attend group meetings.
- Junior High and High School Teachers may not participate in FCA or any other religious organization during non-instructional time. This also includes See You at the Pole.
10.2.c School employees may attend meetings only in a non-participatory capacity, such as to maintain discipline.
10.2.d The school shall not sponsor the club. School officials shall not promote, lead, or participate in a meeting.
- High School faculty and staff may attend baccalaureate only in a non-official capacity.
11.2.b.5 School employees may attend the baccalaureate service as long as they are not attending in an official capacity.
It doesn’t have to be this way. As a county, we have significant influence over the specific nature of these policies. G. K. Chesterton, author and philosopher from the early 1900’s said, “Once abolish the God and the government becomes the God.” I do not write this as some raging right-wing fanatic. I write this as a pastor whose heart breaks for my staff whose desire is to be a positive influence in our school system. I write this as a pastor whose heart breaks for teachers who have, for years, been a positive influence for good in the school system. I write this as a pastor whose heart breaks for students who are desperately seeking to find their way in a world that is becoming increasingly sterilized and secularized.
This isn’t a political argument. Nor am I making a legal argument. I am neither a politician nor a lawyer. This is a cultural and spiritual argument. On Monday, I will again attend the meeting. I plan to speak, and plead, on behalf of our county.