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.


  1. Thank you, Jerry for all that you do. Please continue to advocate for our children and our schools. I am proud to call you my Pastor!


  2. It is time to stand up and protest and stand for our rights before we lose them as Christians and before the Constitution is abolished! Praying for your students and schools and pastors in your state!


  3. It is people like you and other community leaders, parents, and citizens of McDowell County who need to speak up. Our school board and School “Leader” are moving in such a wrong direction. It makes me so sad as an educator in McDowell.


    1. I think the best thing to do is contact the school board with an email or a letter. Also, you might find it beneficial to attend the meeting on Monday at 6:30 pm. Of course pray.


  4. I have no problem letting God into schools for student-led gatherings, but it is not the duty of the school to promote a particular religion. And if Christians are so set on pushing religious ideas into the school system, then I’m sure they have no reservation about allowing Islamic, Hindi, Buddhist and religious ideas into the schools too.


    1. Ryan,
      I appreciate your comment. I agree that it is not the duty of the school to promote a particular religion. However, our churches in McDowell County have a rich history of feeding hungry children (550 each summer), providing backpacks for needy children, and other benevolent causes. Personally, our family hosted a Moslem foreign exchange student two years ago. I have several close friends who are Moslem. My concern is the apparent suppression of religion.


  5. I would love to know what to do. I’m tired of sitting back and having all our religious freedoms taken away from us because of a few people. Its time Christians take a stand. Will someone please let me know what to do to make my voice heard.


  6. The problem is, too many people are so focused on the aspect of taking religion out of schools that they choose not to view the history. The separation of church and state is actually a good thing because it forbids the state to be able to mandate how we believe. Students are actually encouraged to participate in religious aspects in school, but no one wants to believe it. Personally, all of this mess should not be going on. It seems to me that it started when that little girl was forced to omit the word God in the Veterans Day thing. Now, people are yelling and screaming and trying to get religion completely taken out. I do not agree with it. If a teacher wishes to participate in what the students are doing, as long as they are not directly controlling it, then I see that is being OK. Just because they are participating does not mean that they have lost their objectivity. Teachers are people too. I am honestly offended at how bad things have gotten. The sad part is, organizations such as FCA are required to have a staff sponsor. That means that ALL of those organizations will no longer be able to exist. I really hope enough people see this and will do what is right. And that does not mean taking it all out. To be honest, allowing it would be better.


  7. I agree with you Jerry….what a shame that we would allow hungry children to be deprived of the great Lunch Bunch program and other programs. The battle for meeting the “spiritual” needs of our school children is obviously not a concern of our current administration, however it seems a little third worldish (not a word, I’m aware), to even consider depriving kids of “physical needs”. I can’t imagine the justification behind this.


  8. We grieve with you that we live in a culture that no longer wants to recognize the presence of the living God and his influence in the founding of our great country. Please know that we will be praying with you and your community as you fight the good fight of faith.
    In HIS Grip,
    Haywood and Dixie Riner Matthew 6:33


  9. God be with our country we are so going backwards. These poor kids. They are the ones suffering not adults. Let the kids say they don’t want to pray.


  10. I will be satisfied to allow teachers to promote the Christian religion in schools if our Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, and Hindu brothers and sisters can all promote their religions too. But that would never be allowed to stand. You can preach all you want about the reasons why you believe this or that, but the fact is if a non christian tried to promote their beliefs in a public school in McDowell county, everyone of the people who commented here, along with every pastor in the county would be outraged and throwing a fit on the lawn of the courthouse demanding it be ceased immediately. If you say otherwise, you are lying to your readers, and probably yourself. Religion, in any form does not belong in our schools.


  11. When brought to my attention the changes that might possibly soon come to fruition in our future my heart felt heavy. I have worked directly with the schools, churches, and other nonprofit organazations for a long time, along with deep family roots to this community, and I do not feel that these changes are heading in the direction that my heritage worked so hard everyday to support and build.I have spent day after day making sure that children receive quality child care, support, and a healthier lifestyle to grow in. I have been very proud of the people who commit themselves to coaching, teaching, and providing that support through the programs that these referendums are getting ready to cut off! Since when was Human kindness and charity a problem in this county!When did it become an issue to lift up families, staff, children in a sporting event, a general assembly, or any other function.I hope the community takes a stand for the things that make us special and unique in the culture of our community.


  12. They have taken God , the Bible, and all religion out of public schools AND LOOK AT WHAT’S HAPPENING IN THE SCHOOLS!!!!!! this is a free country… and it seems like that’s all being taken away from us and our children! THIS NEEDS TO STOP!


  13. Jerry, you know how proud I am of you and your ability to see beyond the bickering to how the children of this county will suffer if the churches are not allowed to do the good work they are currently doing to support the school children while not proselytizing in any way. This is not good enough for our new Board of Education and governing members, and that is sad.

    Kent Brown, the school board lawyer, said the “homework folder policy” was purposefully exclusive, so they could name the organizations that can send papers home, his implication being that they would add Lunch Bunch. But this approach only allows existing programs to be added to the list, forever forbidding any new programs from having access to the standard form of communication with parents of school children.

    And I so wish that schools would actually teach that “Separation of church and state” is in no legal document created to govern our country, but simply a line in a letter from Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Connecticut Baptist churches, assuring them the state would not interfere with them.

    “Because of the very common usage of the “separation of church and state phrase,” most people incorrectly think the phrase is in the constitution. The phrase “wall of separation between the church and the state” was originally coined by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to the Danbury Baptists on January 1, 1802. His purpose in this letter was to assuage the fears of the Danbury, Connecticut Baptists, and so he told them that this wall had been erected to protect them. The metaphor was used exclusively to keep the state out of the church’s business, not to keep the church out of the state’s business.

    The constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Both the free exercise clause and the establishment clause place restrictions on the government concerning laws they pass or interfering with religion. No restrictions are placed on religions except perhaps that a religious denomination cannot become the state religion. “


  14. For Cindy Berryhill:
    It occurs to me that people don’t really know how to contact the Board of Education to express your opinions about the First Amendment Policy.

    The Board Members. These are the people you vote for, that make every other decision that affects you, including hiring the Superintendent.Email address for the school board members:

    The Superintendent herself:

    Her new assistant super:

    The school board attorney, Kent Brown. I don’t know if he has a email, but he works for the School Board. If you email all 9 school board members, I’m sure he will get the message as well.

    Finally, the McDowell County Public School System is currently going through the accreditation process from the Southern Associations of Colleges and Schools. The decision to postpone accreditation from last year was made:

    (from an article in Dec 2011)
    “At the recent specially called Board of Education meeting, member Patrick Ellis moved “to postpone the audit that’s coming up in March for at least a year to give the new superintendent an opportunity to come in and set his mission and vision so that we can go through with the new superintendent’s targets.”

    Part of the Accreditation Rubric is how well the School Board and the Superintendent work together, and with stake holders. We as parents and citizens are the stake holders.


  15. Prayer works>We need to be on our knees asking God to forgive us for letting things get this far and give it back to him.He is the only one that can straighten this mess out.Thank you to everyone who spoke up for our children and aren’t afraid to stand up for our schools and families. My God is able! We are getting to the point that teachers worth having are going somewhere else because they can’t teach for fear of breathing the wrong way.


  16. Are these fellas and ladies elected? If so, they are awfully bold! I would be mounting my best logical challenge (explain why what they are doing will hurt their students) with an aggressive social (show up in droves and drive awareness). And I would be ready with a legal challenge should it actually be passed by the school board.


  17. Jerry, thank you for taking a stand on an incredibly important topic. I feel for the teachers that have to abide by these policies. It has to be very difficult to suppress a lifetime of religious beliefs and fear punishment if a “slip up” occurs. I hope to visit Grace soon as I have been away far too long.


  18. My grandchildren will soon be moving into McDowell County after years of persuasion. I deeply regret the lack of Christian character in the schools here in recent months. It seems I have made a grave mistake in urging them to come to this county now.


  19. We frequently forget that the freedoms we take for granted did not just “happen.” They were won at the cost of thousands of lives, and at the cost of whole generations seeking and paying the ultimate price for freedom from government control and suppression of the church.
    Our founders recognized that the freedoms we have in the United States don’t come from government, but are derived from our Creator, as gifts to be defended and protected. These freedoms have allowed the church to do a huge amount of good. If we lose them, of course, our ability to do these good things will be increasingly hindered. Thus these freedoms have immense value to God’s Kingdom.
    God’s purpose for government is to restrain evil and promote good in society. We should seek to help it fulfill its God-given function.
    If Christians don’t do this, then who will inform government officials of what God’s intended role for government is?



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