Church, State, Schools and Our Children: A Concerned Response

By Mark A. Cascairo

I wish to respond to an article which appeared in the July 20, 1995, Guardian of Truth written by Michael W. Green of Orange, Texas. The article began with a reference to the First Amendment of the Constitution and ended with the statement, “If you do your job properly, you have nothing to fear with respect to the teaching in public schools.”

The intervening lines of the article point out two examples of religious activities in public school settings which caused controversy, and the court decisions, in each case, prohibiting the activities. The argument is made that the decisions were based on the Constitution’s directive to “protect religion from government interference.” The conclusion was that, when decisions are made based on the First Amendment which prevent the state (schools) from “proscribing” religious expression, these same court decisions also protect our religious freedom, and therefore, we should not be alarmed. We should let the state do its job (secular education), and Christian parents should do their job (religious training, Eph. 6:4). Then came the ending statement cited in the previous paragraph.

This article raised concerns for a number of reasons. First, brother Green has attempted to prove too much with his evidence. The article revolves around the “separation of church and state” issue and the constitutionality of religious activities n public schools. Then, the conclusion suggests that the “teaching” in public schools is not to be feared. These are two very broad and different issues, and the article left many stones unturned, prior to its confident conclusion. I can appreciate brother Green’s main point, that Christians must assume diligently the responsibility to provide the religious training for their children. I believe, however, that his confidence in the state to “do its job” is somewhat misplaced.

There are many in our country who are appalled at the state’s lack of success in even providing the basics of a “secular education.” This is enough to make a parent fearful, or at least a little concerned. But more importantly, the values often taught (yes, taught, both actively and indirectly) are to be feared. From evolution (taught as fact, not theory), to values clarification (home of situational ethics), to health curricula depicting premarital intercourse, homosexuality, and abortion as popular and potentially “healthy” choices, the teaching in public schools is not benign.

Secondly, who relinquished the responsibility to provide a “secular education” for our children to the state? It is my opinion that Ephesians 6:4 must include proper “secular” training in a father’s responsibility to his child. “Secular education,” itself, is a myth. Learning skills to function in society so as not to be a burden, to provide for one’s own family, to be respectable husbands, wives, mothers and fathers, and to be able to share with those less fortunate, are all part of the Lord’s admonition or instruction (2 Thess. 3:11, 12; 1 Tim. 5:8, 16; Titus 2:1-8).

In most cases this part of the parent’s responsibility is delegated as regards the details of the training, but I believe parents are accountable ultimately. Public school is a relatively new invention, and it has served a useful purpose in our nation’s history. Many alternatives exist, however  parochial schools, home school, private schools, and education co-ops. A parent who blindly entrusts his child to the “teaching” in the public schools is similar to a parent who gives his child a remote control to a cable television and then leaves the room. Nobody would suggest, “Let the entertainment industry do its job. You have nothing to fear if you’re doing your job properly as a parent.” Likewise, the responsibility of appropriately educating our children is not to be “rendered unto Caesar.”

A third concern returns us to the “separation of church and state” issue. May it be noted at the outset that the phrase, “separation of church and state,” is not even to be found in the Constitution. The authors of the First Amendment did not view religious activity in a state institution as a violation of this amendment. The Founding Fathers were highly religious men who included God and the principles of the Bible in framing the Constitution and in conducting governmental business. Their intent was to prevent the establishment of one particular denomination as the state church (like the Church of England) with emphasis on allowing the free exercise of any religion. Separation of church and state, as an idea, is a recent invention of the courts, as they inappropriately interpret the intent of the First Amendment. Though the courts may claim to rule based on a desire to protect religion from government interference, the tragic effect is often government interference.

The two examples of the graduation ceremony prayer and required Bible reading in school, given by brother Green, were cases in point. The court decisions to prohibit these religious activities were violations of the First Amendment clause regarding “prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Countless other cases could be cited in which courts have interfered with religious activities in public schools, even if the entire district, classroom, or graduating class were in favor of the activity. This is not the effect of the First Amendment the Founding Fathers had in mind. Yes, we must submit to the laws of the land, including these court decisions which misinterpret the First Amendment, but we need not happily agree with the misinterpretations. We have a right and a responsibility as citizens to strive for more accurate and equitable decisions by the court. If these efforts are unsuccessful, then appropriate action to protect our children from the resultant ill effects of such decisions (e.g., removing our children from the public school) need not be regarded as a lack of submission to the governing authorities.

In addition, many local school officials and administrators of public schools have been influenced by such misinterpretations of the First Amendment. In many in-stances, the officials have concluded that the proper adherence to the “separation of church and state” mandate prohibits all activities which mention God, Jesus Christ, or the Bible. These are activities in which the courts have not been directly involved. Here are some absurd examples: a Christmas bulletin board (which featured a snowy landscape and a church building) was disallowed in a classroom, though witches and goblins were allowed at Halloween; an after school Bible study club was banned, even though it was conducted off campus; lettering forming the Ten Commandments was ordered to be removed from a school hallway wall, while elsewhere, rock and roll music with explicit profanity was allowed in a physical education class.

Many would argue that the decisions that are rendered are purposely aimed at removing God and the Judeo-Christian influence from the public arena especially since other types of religious expression are not prohibited in the schools (for example, transcendental meditation is actually taught). Even a goal of promoting secular humanism has been attributed to the educational elite, and this with a large amount of supporting evidence. John Dunphy expressed this goal in a 1983 edition of The Humanist: “The classroom must and will become an arena of conflict between the old and the new  the rotting corpse of Christianity, together with all its adjacent evils and misery, and the new faith of humanism.”

Truly, as brother Green has stated, one cannot expect the state to provide religious training for our children. That is our job as parents. On the other hand, we are commanded to “walk circumspectly” (Eph. 5:15), and our attitude to-ward our children’s training in the public schools should be one of sober vigilance, both in regard to the content and quality of the “teaching,” and in regard to the free exercise of their religious expression. It is our parental responsibility to see that the religious training we diligently provide is not undermined by any influence, including those that may emanate from the public schools.

Guardian of Truth XXXIX: No. 20, p. 20-21
October 19, 1995