Letters-to-the-editor aren’t just displays of opinions.
Sometimes, they can be a story in and of themselves.
Case in point: This letter written by high school freshman Wesley Crawford of Neely, Mississippi in the Hattiesburg American:
I am a freshman at Greene County High School, and I am writing to express my concerns on several assemblies that we have had this year.
It is understood that we live in a region of the country called the “Bible Belt,” and in this region Christianity does play a significant role in the lives and the views of many people. I not only understand this, but I also respect it.
This school year we have had three assemblies where the speaker was a religious figure. The first person was a local preacher. During this assembly he preached to us on the importance of making the right choices and accepting Jesus as our savior.
The next person was a biker-turned-preacher from the Gulf Coast. His program was focused on making the right choices. He didn’t preach to us, but he did mention that turning to Christianity helped him turn his life around.
The other speaker was a preacher from Louisiana. He preached on the importance of living in a Christ-like manner.
These assemblies were all concluded in prayer. We were never given the option to not attend.
I respect all of these people and their commitment to the Christian religion just as much as I respect the Constitution and rights given to us by this document. This time, however, the two are at odds with each other.
The Establishment Clause of the Constitution has been interpreted in many court cases as a wall of separation between church and state.
Moreover, it states clearly in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 that no school official shall mandate or organize religious ceremonies.
I have no problem with the assemblies themselves, but public schools are not the place to preach a religion. The Constitution is the reason that this country hasn’t crumbled into a chaotic state.
Now is not the time to overlook this important document. These assemblies, no matter how good of a message they bear, are still technically illegal.
If this is accurate, a high school freshman just started a firestorm. It’s incredible no one in the media has reported this.
One of the comments on the story comes from Wesley’s mother:
I am Wesley’s mother. He is a very intelligent, articulate, fourteen year old, freshman at GCHS. He is not an athiest, nor does he want all religious assemblies to be removed from schools. If the students want to organize an optional religious assembly, he would not have any problem with it. His main concern is that these assemblies have been organized by the school officials and mandatory. Neither he nor any other student had the option to opt-out.
When he came home and told me about all of this, I encouraged him to write letters and let his voice be heard. He also sent his letter to the Mississippi Department of Education, but so far there has been no response.
I just wanted all of you to know that he is not a punk, nor is he a trouble maker. He is simply a very smart young man who saw a problem and wanted to do something about it.
Let me repeat: Not an atheist. Just a smart kid who wants to protect the separation of church and state.
Another commenter wrote this:
I see at least 2 problems here:
1. If student attendance was mandatory and there were no exemptions or opt-outs, and the primary focus of the event could reasonably be interpreted as proselytizing, then it was illegal. Religious coercion, especially of public school students. is a definite no-no.
2. The Greene County school system is now obligated to offer non-religious and/or non-Protestant “motivational” speakers. If they don’t, they could well set themselves up for a Constitutional lawsuit. Butch (or any other atheist/agnostic/pagan/FSM-worshipper/etc) would be well within his rights to ask to address the student body in the same manner as the three referenced evangelical speakers. In fact, it would be interesting to see an atheist request to address the students under the same conditions afforded the other speakers.
This all depends on the circumstances under which the three previous speakers addressed the students. Were they there by invitation and, if so, by whom? Did they request to address the students? Were the the speeches overtly religious in nature or were the references to Christ (etc) of a personal nature only?
We need the ACLU now.
We also need some confirmation on whether this letter is accurate and the assemblies are going on as depicted.
(Thanks to Butch for the link!)
[tags]atheist, atheism, Christian, Jesus, proselytizing[/tags]